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Partnering With God In Your Growth

Maybe it's ideas of social justice, the academic study of the Bible, worship itself, the preaching and teaching, or maybe it's the environment. But we get really passionate about one thing at a time.

Corby Stephens
Corby Stephens
15 min read
Partnering With God In Your Growth
Photo by Beth Macdonald / Unsplash

Table of Contents

The following text is the raw, unedited transcript from a sermon given on November 12, 28th, 2023 at Christ Our Hope Anglican Church in Olympia, WA. You can also listen to the audio. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast! 😄

Many of you know I work at a school. It's a K-12 private Christian school, and my office is near where the middle schoolers are. Pray for me. Middle schoolers are funny to me, but it's normal. It makes sense for them. They are at an age where they have the emotional and mental capacity of a thimble, where they can hold one thing in their heads and in their hearts at any time. If so-and-so likes me, they can't contain that emotion because their capacity is only this much. Or if somebody broke up with somebody, or if somebody got boated off the island or lost whatever pop show they're on, and they'll cry and they'll melt down. And it's not because there's something wrong with them, it's they only have this much capacity. And hopefully, over time, that grows, that expands, and they're able to hold more in their heads and more in their hearts, maybe even to the point of seeming contradiction, to hold things that seem opposite, but actually they do work together. And there comes a point where there's room for nuance in their thinking and in their feeling. Not everything is only one thing.

It's now there's room for all of this. Now, I'm not talking about sense of humor maturity because I'm not there yet. But I'm hoping I have emotional and mental capacity for other things. I say this because when we read the Bible, and especially, well, maybe not especially, but as we read the New Testament, there are lots of commands given. I'm not talking about the thou shalts and the thou shalt nots. Paul says to pray without ceasing. That's a lot. That could be a full-time job, praying without seizing. You have the Lord here saying more than once, but in today's gospel reading, to be ready. Like, well, okay, then that's all I can focus on, is just being ready? Because That takes all my energy. For some people, maybe it's ideas of social justice or the academic study of the Bible or worship itself. All they really focus on is the musical element of worship, or maybe it's the preaching and teaching, or maybe it's the environment, but they get really passionate about, usually one thing at a time. I came to call it theological angst, and it usually occurs to Young seminary students, college students, because you're young and you were in college.

And for the comedy value. Because when they get, and I saw this happening when I was pastoring and there was a school close by, and some of the students would come to the church. When they got away from mom and dad and mom and dad's church, and they went to other churches, and they learned something they hadn't learned in another church before, they're like, This is awesome. How come I've never heard this before? But it's like, Dude, it's not new. You're just catching up because you're young and you've had this much experience, and now you're getting out to have this much experience. But it's an angst. It's an excitement or maybe even an anger. And they need room to grow. So that's the big frame I want us to have in mind as we get into more of what I want to talk about today, which also has to do with expectations. What do we expect? When Jesus comes back? The call it today, there was an unfortunate misprint. It happens because both call it, the one that was the misprint and the correct one, both start with, Oh God. And if you're doing a quick skimming of things, it's like, 'Oh, that starts the same, so that must be right.

But the call it that was in the lectionary for today goes like this, 'Oh God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life. Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure, that when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious Kingdom, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. And when we look at today's readings from the lectionary, the big theme has to do with the day of the Lord. Now, I was pleasantly surprised that when we came into the Anglican world, there is no definitive theological statements about the end times. Maybe you've noticed that's become a popular topic again with everything happening in Israel. In fact, the closest thing I can find to an official statement is in the Creeds that he will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. That's the closest thing I can find. He will come again.

Second coming. I'm all in on that. But when it comes to that, what do you expect and what is our responsibility? How big is our thimble for being able to focus on something like that? Well, when we look at the passage in Amos, in its context, at the beginning of the chapter, Amos says, Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel. So this is like a sad word. This is a bummer word. This is a corrective word. And when you read it, I think when you have that in mind and you look at this passage, it makes more sense because as leading up to these verses, what he's saying to them is, you guys are making all these sacrifices. He's basically saying, you're making all these sacrifices, you're doing all these things, but your heart is not with the Lord. Your mind is not with the Lord. You're just doing, and you're making loud noise, and It sounds like you're praising, but there's nothing in it. It's just this empty act. And then he says to them, Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord. Now, when you read that in context, being addressed to people who have maybe what the New Testament calls a form of Godliness, but lacking the power thereof, they ought not to be looking forward to that.

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord. Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness and not light to them, to these people, to those recipients, to those people he's talking to. This is almost funny to me. He says, As if a man fled from a lion and a bear met him. It sounds Monty Python to me. It's not something you should expect to be a good experience if you have this empty connection, I never knew you, connection relationship with God. It's not a good thing to them. In fact, it's a bad thing to them. But in the end, what it is at the end of verse 24 in Amas, it says, But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. That is somewhat beautiful imagery, but it's basically a flood. Floods usually aren't good things to those who are victims of the flood. A flood. But it is justice. It is righteousness. God's righteousness and his justice will one day flow down like rivers, like waters. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. That's one expectation. That's one heart to have.

Another one is found in another reading from the Psalm, Psalm 70. This is somebody who's crying out to God. I think from a place of sincerity. Make haste, O God, to deliver me. ' 'Oh Lord, make haste to help me. ' 'Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. ' 'Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt. ' 'Let them turn back because of their shame who say, Aha, aha. I love that. You ever have somebody do that to you in one phrase or another? 'Aha, loser, busted. You thought you were right, but you're wrong. Well, David pray later, God, kick their teeth in, and that might be a little extreme, but that's what he prayed in all his honesty. May all who seek you, rejoice and be glad in you. So it's not just God, deliver me, me, me, me. God, it's really about you. May all who seek you, rejoice and be glad in you. May those who love your salvation say evermore, God is great. But I am poor and needy. Hasten to me, O God. Come quickly to me, O Lord.

O God, you are my help and my deliverer. O Lord, do not delay. So you have one camp in Amas who want the day Give the Lord to come, but it's like running from a lion and being eaten by a bear. And then you have this mindset of, I am poor and needy. That humility, that God, I got nothing to give you except these empty hands. Do not delay. Beautiful mindset for that day. Another mindset is found in our Thessalonians reading. There it is. Thessalonians is an interesting letter. Some believe it's probably the earliest pen to paper document we have from the Bible. Paul spent maybe three weeks in Thessalonica before he had to split. And he writes back this, well, for us, what we call a five-chapter letter and then a follow-up letter, 2 Thessalonians. And he writes to follow up the things he spent three weeks talking to them about. That must have been a very intense few weeks for Paul to get into all these things and then to rehash some of them. But one of them had to do with the coming of the Lord, the day of the Lord. And he says, But we do not want you to be uninformed.

The new King James says, We don't want you to be ignorant, Brethren. You don't know. You're missing something about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. It's thought that they were so anticipating this day that they thought, as we do, it could happen anytime. But they were ready for it then. However, there were brothers and sisters in the Lord dying. Sleep is a figure of speech for death. And they thought, did they miss it? Uncle John died. Is he going to miss out on the day of the Lord? Paul says, no. Deep breath. It's okay. That you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. So as Jesus was resurrected, so his people will one day be resurrected, at least those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word from the Lord, that we who are alive, when that happens, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

For the Lord himself will descend from with a cry of the command, with this... And with the sound of the trumpet. See, that was my trumpet sound. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the cloud We meet the Lord in the air so that we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words. So Paul's point is encouragement. They didn't miss out. You're not going to miss out. It just hasn't happened yet. And we don't know when, do we? So their focus was... The first group was focusing on the day of Lord is going to be great, but their hearts were in the complete wrong place. The Psalmist was crying out to the Lord from a place of humility and wanting to be... He was under some persecution, or that's at least the effect. And then these folks are thinking, What about those who died? Are they going to miss out? So everybody has this different mindset, and they're a little thimble focus on what's going to happen. Then in the gospel, Matthew, Jesus gives us one of a handful of parables of what to expect or what our responsibility is.

I'm not going to go into all of the cultural elements of the Jewish wedding feast, but the bridegroom came from someplace else. Sometimes you didn't know when they were going to arrive. You just had to be like, We're ready for the party. When's the groom going to show up? Don't know. But we got to be ready. And in this case, the groom was delayed. And these virgins, remember, they had oil lamps. It wasn't like they had flashlights. They have these little oil lamps with wicks burning inside, and you have a limited supply of oil. I don't know how fast those burn, but to go through a whole little lamp of oil might have been a long time through the whole night. Five of them had no extra. Five of them did have extra. They brought with them a flask of extra oil just in case they needed more. And the ones who didn't have it, he said, Hey, can we have some of yours? You can't borrow it because you can't really borrow oil. Then we'll give it back later because it burns up. But can we have some of yours? And they're like, No, because if the bright rhub comes, then there's not enough for both of us.

So sorry, go down to Walmart and buy some more. So they did. And while they were out, the groom came, the virgins with the extra oil came out and we're part of the procession and welcoming the groom into the house for the party. The door was shut and the other virgins came and said, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered truly, I do not know you. And Jesus' point is, Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Now, this, to me, is sometimes maybe more often than not focused on in the wrong way. We all, Christians everywhere at all times, have to be focused in on this being ready. That's all we have to do. No, it's not all we have to do. Pray without ceasing. All these other things that we've been given command to do and recommendation to do, And it's a matter of the size of our thimbles, of growing, of how to expand that so that we are ready. And we can also be praying without ceasing. And we can also be loving our neighbor and ourselves. And we can also be good stewards of the environment.

And we can also... You see where this is going? And it takes time to do that. It can be a lot. It can seem like a lot. And we all have to give ourselves grace in some cases, to do that. But we also need each other to encourage each other in going forward, in growing in these things. We're not supposed to do this alone. It's one of the beautiful things about our tradition is that on Sundays, we come together and we do the liturgy, which is the work of the people. This is something we do together. It's not something the super spiritual people go and do. It's something we do with one another, and we encourage one another as we do it. At the same time, there is some responsibility that we have. Jesus says to watch, Therefore, which is like a watchman on a wall. It's like having guard duty on your post. It's like your job is to pay attention to what's happening out there. But so much more. I'm getting too excited talking about it. I had coffee. Okay. So like the collect says, and this is, to me, what could be one of those contradictory things that some people might read and go, How do I do that?

The Colette says, Having this hope That we may purify ourselves as he is pure. How do we purify ourselves? How do we make ourselves pure? God is pure. In another epistle, it's actually a quote from the Old Testament, Be holy for I am holy, says the Lord. How am I supposed to do that? Isn't that why I need Jesus? Yes, but it's not like you just become this marionette, and God moves you around and you have no role in it whatsoever. We do have our own responsibility like you would in any relationship. The person in your relationship shouldn't be your puppet master. Shouldn't be your puppet master. And if there are, well, we need to pray. But for example, in 2 Peter, the apostle says, For this very reason, he's talking about how we have all these great and precious promises and everything we need for life and godliness found in his word. He says, For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue. Wait, I thought all I needed was faith. We start with faith. Faith is the foundation. Faith is what we need. But it's not just, Okay, I believe.

I trust. You know, now what? No, add to your faith, virtue. And with virtue, knowledge. And knowledge, self-control. Self-control? But how am I supposed to have self-control? We are. That's something we grow in. That's something we develop. To self control, steadfastness and steadfastness with Godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me read that last verse again. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoa. That is something we do. That is something we focus on. I would hope that in any relationship, you or I would want to make ourselves better for the other person's sake and not just expect to be made better by them because that's just selfishness, isn't it? No, we work on ourselves. We have this element of self-improvement in this relationship. At the same time, apparent contradiction. Bigger thimble. There is this idea that God does do a work in us. The Holy spirit does do work in us.

And this work is called fruit. Fruit is just a natural byproduct, isn't it? If you have a healthy garden or a healthy tree in good soil with good sunlight and plenty of water, the tree just grows its fruit, doesn't it? Paul says in Galatians 5 about the fruit of the spirit. There it is. But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, Self control. Wait, I thought we were supposed to add self control. It's also a fruit of the spirit. It's both. See what they did there? Okay. And this fruit is not I've heard this talked about in different ways, and my best understanding of it is that it's not the fruits of the spirit are, it's the fruit of the spirit is. Some people will say that the fruit of the spirit is love, and then Paul just goes on to unpack what love is. Maybe that's true. I think it's as if Paul is saying the fruit of the spirit is love, it's patience, it's joy, it's all these other. He's saying these are all... They are fruits, plural, of the spirit, but The natural off, the natural consequence of the spirit being alive and growing in us is these things.

It's a Holy spirit tree with all these different fruits growing off of it, hopefully. So there is this sense in which we have our own responsibility in having the right expectations of growing in him, of overcoming theological angst and being hung up on one thing only. And I think as we do that, the spirit does do things, and people who know you and love you will start to say, You know what? You are being more patient. That would be awesome. You are being more kind. You are being more generous. You have more self-control than you had before. Both as a matter of effort and as a matter of fruit of the spirit. So these things all happen in their season, and that's as it should be. I'm not suggesting that we all work on all of these all at the same time, but do spend time saying, Lord, where am I now? Where do you want me to be now? What do you want me to work on? What can we work on together? What is the right expectation I should have for myself, for you, for what's coming in the future so that we can follow Jesus' exhortation to be watchful, to be ready.

Just ready to go, ready for whatever that is, ready for the Lord to come and judge the living and the dead. So maybe make that a focus of your prayer time this week. Where am I at, Lord? Where do you want me to be? Let's pray. Lord, thank you as always for your word. Thank you as always for your grace and your mercy. Thank you as always that we can come to you, both humbly and boldly, to the Throne of Grace. That we can come with thanksgiving, we can come with repentance, we can come with you wherever we are at, and you are willing to receive us, but also send us away more than what we were when we came to you. What I pray that every experience we have with you does just that, that we come to you one way and we leave a little bit more in your image, and that we allow ourselves the grace to let this happen over time, to not expect to be perfect day one, because that's just not going to happen. So again, we love you, we praise you, we thank you. We look forward to our time together at the table.

In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.



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