September 16, 2011

We Are To Grow Spiritually By Striving For the Gospel

 The parable of the Workers (Matthew 20.1-16) teaches us that God is generous, keeps reaching out to ua and expects us to be working in His vineyard. In modern times the “vineyard” is our neighbourhood. But what are we supposed to actually be doing? I believe the Apostle Paul explains this to us in the other reading, Philippians 1.21-30. Paul is teaching us that our work is to strive for the Gospel – being and telling others the good news of forgiveness and eternal spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul lived in a time much like our own. There were many religions, each teaching that they were right and others wrong. Paul and the early Christians were under constant attack in working to teach a new understanding of God that directly challenged the leadership of those trying to maintain historic Judaism and the many pagan religions. They did not hesitate to speak out and say Jesus was the only way to real salvation and right relationship with God.

1. Have we been silenced by our secular culture and stopped striving for the Gospel?
Lucille and I have just returned from a six week sabbatical that included a week in Norway, immediately after the tragic bomb blast and murder of 78 people at a summer camp. We drove past the island where the shooting took place and saw the damaged buildings in Oslo. Norway is one of the most secular countries in Europe and has a state Lutheran Church with one of the lowest attendance rates in the world. We attended a noon service in the Cathedral. Outside, small groups of young people were still bringing fresh flowers and silently laying them on the huge piles of dead flowers all around the entrance. Inside, off in one corner a few people were laying flowers in a side chapel. Midday prayers were read with no emotion, no petitions for healing and no word of hope by two clergy apparently oblivious to the need around them. It was a stunning example of a church with nothing to say and where nobody seems to be striving for the Gospel. This is where we are headed unless lay people and clergy are prepared to go into the market and offer themselves for the hard work of sharing the good news of Jesus in a hostile environment.  

2. We saw some good examples of striving for the Gospel in England
St Aldates is right across the street from Christ Church College, where I was doing a course. The music was very loud and very contemporary. The message was very evangelical and very charismatic. There was a prophecy and a time of healing prayer. There were over 300 young people there celebrating the good news of Gods’ love and forgiveness. The average age would be about 30 – I was the oldest person in the room. These people were excited about their faith. They had stories of what God had done in their lives – and they were not shy about sharing the good news. A week later we were in London at Holy Trinity Brompton, the home of the Alpha Course. Nicky Gumble put in a brief appearance. He has 10 services on Sunday, including two satellite locations where people watch the teaching on TV screens. Again it was very loud, evangelical, charismatic – and packed with young people. The other special thing about these packed churches is that almost everyone there had a personal ministry. Some led house groups, some taught Sunday School or Bible Study groups, some ministered to people on the street and others visited or prayed for people. Nobody was standing idle in the market place.

3. Paul encourages ‘progress and joy in the faith’ by ’striving together as one for the faith’
We are not to be like the people who came late to the market. They were discouraged and beaten down by not having anything meaningful to do. Post 9/11 terrorism has taught us that it is dangerous to blindly respect the religious freedom of others and stop proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Paul urges us to ‘not be frightened in any way of those who oppose you”. (Philippians 1.28) The exciting thing about our spiritual lives is that as we step out in faith and begin working in the vineyard we grow spiritually. We are forced to read our Bibles, learn what Jesus really said and experience the wisdom and joy of the Holy Spirit. If we really loved our neighbour we would actively encourage and challenge him to learn about Jesus.

The readings challenge us to strive for the Gospel
There is a very serious teaching in Ezekiel (3.16-19) about being a “watchman”.  God warns the Ezekiel - and us, that if we fail to warn people of their sins and they die spiritually “...I will hold you accountable for his blood” (v.18) When we see that the enemy has blinded people, including our brothers and sisters in the Church, we must warn them.

Striving for the Faith is not an option - it is a requirement of personal spiritual life and growth.

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