This is my Prayer for You…
December 30, 2018 sermon.
A letter from me, Chad Vandervalk, a struggling, joyful, uncertain, yet hope filled, fan and follower of the saviour and liberator, Jesus.
To all the brothers and sisters connected to Fleetwood Christian Reformed Church.
To those who are gathered here sitting on a hard wooden pew.
To those who have snagged a pillow to soften the bench a bit.
To those who are a part of our on-line community; those watching on a little computer screen in your office, or those who have figured out how to put us up on your TV so you can sit on your couch, or those who have chosen to listen to this message again at some point in the future.
To all those who have set aside some time to be reminded of the incredible good news of Jesus.
To those who are God’s chosen people, his royal priesthood, his holy nation.
To those who are God’s special possession (his peculiar people).
To those now tell others over and over again just how amazing God is.
To all you regular, ordinary, everyday folks who are God’s chosen instruments for his work in this world.
Grace and Peace to you.
Paul opens all his letters with grace and peace, so it’s a pretty good place to start. This combination of Gentile and Jewish greeting that gives witness to the unity of this new community in Jesus.
Grace, which at root is simply gift – this gift that which causes joy, pleasure, and gratification; this gift that shows God’s favour, and acceptance of those who deserve neither favour, nor acceptance.
Grace – this benefit given to us by God without any expectation of return, unearned and unmerited gift.
And Peace, this translation of the Hebrew Shalom; a word which includes, but transcends an lack of fighting, a word which puts an end to arguing and bickering in your relationships with each other.
Peace – the experience of tranquillity, serenity, and a freedom from anxiety and worry; health, welfare, prosperity, and every kind of good
Grace and peace; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God, finding its only motive in his bounty and benevolence; a participation in life the way it was intended right from the beginning; life in right relationship with God, with each other, and with the world.
Grace and peace to you.
You know, every morning when I come into work the first thing I do is pray for all of you. My dog, Digby, has come to expect the routine because when I sit down in the chair facing the window he jumps up on my knees and then settles down into my lap for a little nap. If I don’t do it right away, he sits and stares at me until I do it.
Every morning I give thanks and pray for this community that is continually seeking the one who has come seeking us. This community that is continually learning what it means to be broken and wounded, but also redeemed. This community that hurts, heals, and forgives. Every morning I joyfully give thanks for this community because Jesus lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand new creations. Every morning I joyfully give thanks for this community because I know that God loves each and every one of us fiercely.
Every morning I joyfully give thanks for this community because I am convinced that the God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.
We may not always understand his actions, but we can trust that he loves us and is working for our good. I know that this kind of life is not easy, and it is not something we can do on our own. There are many days when you have thoughts or feelings that are miles away from your convictions and beliefs. That’s okay. You’re not alone.
Even Paul, this spirited proclaimer of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, struggled. Sitting in a prison in Rome, there were days when he felt like it would be so much easier, so much better, if he could just die. He was tired of the struggle. Tired of the uncertainty. Tired of the constant battle that raged within him as he did the things he didn’t want to do, and didn’t do the things he wanted to do.
There are days when we wonder whether it is all worth it. That’s okay. Name the struggle, recognise when your thoughts and feelings are miles away from your convictions and beliefs, and share it with others. Find those whom you know are firmly grounded in their faith, and let them help you find your grounding again.
Don’t let your doubts define you. You might not always feel it, but God’s will always love you, he will always care for you, and he has already given you so much.
Authentic spirituality is never separated from honest and raw emotion, but it is also never overwhelmed by it. Choose to make Jesus central to who you are and how you live. Choose to live out of your convictions. Know what you believe and why. Learn about our tradition, and what drove those who came before to create the creeds and confessions that we subscribe to. Learn why so many of those who have gone before have found the comfort and love of God, defined and explained within them. Also, learn about the traditions of others. No one tradition has God all figured out, and sometimes exploring what others believe about God helps us see him a bit more clearly.
Whatever happens, live in such a way that others will see the life of Jesus growing in you.
See, we live in a world that thinks Christians are a little crazy, a little archaic, a little old-fashioned, and maybe even a little bit odd. But we follow Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, the fulfilment of what humanity was always meant to be.
And, in this world we have the opportunity to show that to others. To show that we don’t have to constantly be in competition with others, continually grabbing the best for ourselves. To show that we don’t need to constantly promote ourselves, or work out bodies into the ground to try to impress others. To show the world that we can actually value others more than ourselves.
We have the opportunity to be a community shaped around the model of Jesus;
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6–11, NIV)
Now, as the Holy Spirit works within us to shape us into Jesus’ image, you each have a role to play. You can’t just rest on your laurels and think that everything will turn out great. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection gives you a right standing before the Father. Yes, accepting Jesus as Lord causes the Spirit to come and work in your life, and Yes, some day you will be changed in the twinkling of an eye when Jesus returns and you will be made complete.
But right now, as we wait in eager expectation for the return of Jesus you need to continue to work on your character, recognising that God is God and you are not. You need to let go of your desire to always be right. You need to be able to work together without arguing, or complaining; without gongismosing. You can’t go around running your mouth simply making noise and letting everyone around you know that you are not happy. You need to roll up your sleeves and get involved with what God is doing here in this community and in our neighbourhood, because when you open yourself to the work of the Spirit within you, you will shine like stars in a dark and despairing world.
Look, I get it. Sometimes the problems we experience fill our hearts and minds in such a way it is hard to see the good that happens around us. Like Schlomo and Buz, those fictional representatives of the Jewish slaves so used to looking down that they walked through the Red Sea with their heads down seeing only the muddy sea floor. They missed the towering walls of water that God held back for them. They missed the miracle of their salvation. They missed the protecting and saving love of God.
I don’t want you to live this way. I need you to remember to lift your heads and see the walls of water held back by God so that we can walk through to safety. I need you to remember that how things went is not how they need to go. I need to remember everything that God has done for you. Never forget who you are because of Jesus.
Never forget that you are a child of God.
You are unshakeable. You are kind. You don’t rush to judge, because you know that surprises are just around the corner as God brings new life. You aren’t weighed down by guilt about things that have happened in the past because you now see that God has been with you through it all, and God will never let you go.
When you trust in Jesus you become a part of a community that is thrust into the world as ambassadors of God’s peace. You announce forgiveness and reconciliation. You proclaim the good news of grace. Impelled by the Spirit, you go next door and far away, into science and art, media and the marketplace—into every area of life, pointing to the reign of God with what you do and say.
Watch out for those who say that you need to do certain things in order to be accepted. Be careful not to follow those who promise you good things here on earth if you do certain things for God. We are not accepted because we follow certain rituals. We are not accepted because we wear certain clothes, or because we sing certain songs, or because we give a certain portion of our income to the church and other charities.
We are accepted because of Jesus. Period.
So, put not confidence in what you have done, or could do. Even though God may have given you more than you could ever hope to achieve on our own, you are not complete yet. And I don’t know about you, but I long to be more complete, more the kind of person God wants me to be. I want to live my life in such a way that others think of me when they try to tell others what it looks like to live like Jesus.
I don’t want to put my identity in anything other than knowing Jesus, and I also don’t want to become easily satisfied with my own spiritual growth. Sometimes we are tempted to become complacent, but God wants so much more for us than we have planned for ourselves.
It’s like the image C.S. Lewis gave, where we are a broken down house and God comes in to renovate. “At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” – Mere Christianity
He intends to come and live in and amongst us. So don’t be easily satisfied with the little joys that come our way. Don’t fool around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to you. Stop arguing and bickering about things that ultimately don’t really matter. We already belong to the kingdom of heaven, and we eagerly await the return of Jesus from there.
We join with the whole creation that groans as in the pains of childbirth as we long for Jesus’ return. Because on that day all things will be made well. On that day God himself will come to live with us. On that day there will be no more death. No more crying. No more sickness. No more death. No more empty chairs at our family celebrations. No more anxious nights waiting for test results. No more worries about where our next pay-cheque is going to come from. No more anguish over the pain of a loved one. No more crying out to God over the suffering of this world.
On that day, God himself will come to each of us. He will take your face in his hands and will gently wipe away every tear from each of our eyes.
So today we can rejoice. Actually, we should rejoice everyday. Over and over again, we should rejoice. Like a child who is filled with joy at the ordinary wonders that surround them all the time, we can celebrate the little gifts God gives us all the time. Don’t buy into the lie that maturity requires less joy. Celebrate! Sing! Dance! Rejoice! Relish the presence of God with you.
Let everyone around you see that you have joy that comes from deep within you. Joy that is not impacted by your circumstances. Help them see that we don’t need to worry or be anxious about anything, but can go to God with everything. That we can tell him all we need, and we can trust that he will look after us.
The answers he gives may not always be what we want, but in the end we can be at peace knowing that God will look after us, no matter what.
So don’t let your mind dwell on those things that distract you from the incredible things God is doing. Don’t keep your head down and miss the walls of water. Think about the good things, the true things, the noble things, the right and pure things, the lovely, admirable, excellent and praise-worthy things.
Like, this past week you could have thought about how the gifts you got were not the ones you wanted. How the socks were the wrong colour, or the sweater the wrong style, or the fourteenth box of chocolates was once too many. You could have thought about the ways that this whole gift-giving thing is a waste of time and resources. How it would have been much more efficient to simply spend some money on the things you wanted.
But you didn’t, right? You remembered that our giving and receiving is a participation in the economy of God. You remembered how the gifts that we exchanged over the past week show that we are connected to each other. How the socks, sweaters, or vacuum cleaners are extensions of the givers, and how we are really giving and receiving little bits of ourselves as we participate in this ritual that increases our mutual dependence.
You remembered that our care for each other is a way to worship God, and to receive from him. That our giving and receiving is a way to help our love abound more and more toward each other, and toward the one who has given everything for us. Ultimately, it’s not really about the things we got because, we can learn through the good times and the hard times, that we can be content in God.
Paul reminded us again and again in his letter to the Philippians that joy comes from recognising how God works through us; regular, ordinary, everyday folk. That joy that comes from realising that we are God’s chosen instruments for his work in this world. That we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us and those who are sitting right here beside us.
This is why I am thankful; thankful for those who are gathered here sitting on a hard wooden pew, for those who have snagged a pillow to soften the bench a bit, for those who are a part of our on-line community, for all those you who have decided to take a break from your everyday activities to be reminded of the incredibly good news about Jesus.
I am thankful for this expression of God’s chosen people, his royal priesthood, his holy nation.
For this expression of God’s peculiar people, for those who show others over and over again just how amazing God is.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ... And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:3–6, 9–11, NIV)