1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
2nd Sunday before Advent
19.11.17 St Barbara’s
Rev Tulo Raistrick
When I was three my grandfather asked me to come and help him water his garden. I loved my grandfather. He could be slightly scary to others but to us grandchildren he was the most fun and special person around. To have special time with him, to be asked to do a job with him, was just amazing, the best thing I could be asked to do. Looking back with hindsight I’m sure I wasn’t a huge amount of help to my grandfather that day. I probably hose-piped him and the house more than I hit the garden, and those flowers I did hit, I probably pummelled flat with the ferocity of my spraying. But it gave both of us so much joy.
That joy, that sheer delight in doing a job alongside someone we love or respect, tends to be harder to hold on to as we get older. We think of reasons why it may not be convenient; we resent the intrusion into our own priorities and workloads. And so we miss out.
So I’m struck by the parable of the talents we have just read. There the labourers are entrusted with a responsibility by their boss: “while I’m away, can you do a job for me?” Two of them do so willingly. Their reward? More responsibility, more work. It seems a strange reward until you realise that the reward also leads to sharing in their boss’ happiness. It is a joy, a privilege, to serve. The other labourer chooses not to accept the invitation – out of laziness or out of fear of failure. And his reward: no more work but consequently no more sharing in the joy of the boss either. The point of the parable: we have been given the most wonderful invitation, to help God with his work. Will we accept the invitation?
I shared with one of the home groups on Wednesday night how something Sarah said to me the other week has made a profound impact on me. We were looking at a different parable – the one where some labourers agree to work for a whole day for a certain wage. When some other labourers who turn up and do one hour’s work get paid the same amount they complain. Sarah’s point was that the labourers in the parable had missed the point. The joy wasn’t in the size of the reward; it was in the delight of having 12 hours, not just the one, to work for the master.
Each of us here has the most extraordinary privilege. God has said to each one of us: I want you to come and work with me; I want you to share in my joy as we work together. Like my grandfather with me as a toddler, God does not expect us to do a perfect job or even a better job than he could do without us, but he wants the delight of doing it with us, and he wants us to share in that delight.
What does that look like for us? The Thursday night home group has spent some time thinking recently about how we are to live out God’s kingdom, how we are to work alongside God in his work – through our use of money, through our relationships, through our work and volunteering, through our standing up for justice, through our care for the environment. Those may be good areas for each of us to consider. God calls us to work alongside him in making a difference in the world and in the lives of those we come into contact with. And we may want to ask God whether there are any new things he wants us to do with him.
Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians describes his colleague Timothy as his brother but also as “God’s fellow-worker”.That description applies to each one of us too. We have been given a wonderful invitation – lets not miss out.
Paul mentions Timothy in his letter for an important reason. If you have been with us since the beginning of this short series on the letter to the Thessalonians, you will remember that Paul was forced to flee from Thessalonica because of intense persecution after only a few weeks, leaving behind a young, fledgling church. Paul describes his departure as “being torn away”; and ever since he has had an “intense longing” to find out how they are doing. So he sends his fellow-traveller Timothy back to the city to find out, and the report that Timothy brings back with him fills Paul with joy. “Now we can really live”, he says, “for we know that despite all the opposition and suffering you are experiencing, you are still standing firm in the Lord.”
Here is a man who is passionately caught up in caring for others. I love that sense that finally he can “live” knowing that others are okay. For Paul, living the Christian life means to be caught up in the lives of others – means to be compassionate, caring, longing for others to know Christ more. Not keeping people at arms distance. It is something he lives and breathes. Just look at the way he writes the letter. Even whilst dictating it, he cannot refrain from going into prayer. He prays at the beginning and end of the letter, but in the middle too, almost in mid-sentence, he starts praying, asking God to enable him to visit them, and that their love and hope may grow. I love that sense of prayer and life being so intermingled, that one naturally flows into the other.
I have been with people at times who in mid-flow of conversation may pause me and say: “Well, lets just pray about that”. Its a bit unnerving at first, but it is a wonderful way of seeking God’s help and reminding us that God is present. Or I know of others, who throughout a conversation will be silently praying to God as we talk. Imagine if praying became as normal over coffee time as it did during our services. What may feel strange at first may become a natural way over time of expressing our faith in God and our love for one another. As a PCC on Tuesday night we spent quite a bit of time in prayer at the end of our meeting – something really good and important to do. But as I’ve read Paul’s letter, its made me wonder whether we should stop occasionally in the middle of our meetings to pray too.
Well, as we come to the end of our short series on Thessalonians, we return finally to one of the great themes of the letter – the suffering and persecution that the church is enduring and how it can stay strong in the midst of it. Our reading from the letter this morning touches on how many in the church were longing for Christ to return. They were looking forward with eagerness to that day when Christ would come in glory to end suffering and establish his just and loving rule on earth. And given what they were enduring – the ostracism, the stonings, even the deaths, because of their faith – such a longing is understandable.
Many of us may be able to identify with that longing, that desire to see an end of suffering. How much longer will this last? We may feel that for individuals we love, for those who are suffering enormously in body, mind or spirit. We may cry out with anger at the injustices of the world, at the seven million people in Yemen on the point of starvation, because of the blockade of ports by Saudi Arabia. And we may cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long? When will this suffering end?”
Paul does not give any easy answers, and he certainly does not give any false promises of times or dates, but he does give encouragement. He gives the Thessalonians and he gives us three great words to hold on to: hope, faith and love.
Hope – knowing and trusting that the day will come when suffering will cease and Christ will come and wipe away every tear. Indeed, that longing shapes how we respond now – with compassion, rather than insulating ourselves with indifference.
Faith – faith in Christ who died and rose from the dead, so that others too may know life beyond death. As we think of those who may have experienced precious little of life before death because of poverty and illness, we can hold on to a God who promises life in all its abundance. And:
Love – love for God and love for others. A love that stirs us to keep on loving, to keep on persevering, and caring with compassion.
As with the church of Thesslonica, we have been given an incredible privilege and joy to do the work of God. Let us live and breathe the Christian life, and live lives of faith, hope and love.
And so in the example of Paul, let us pray together…