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.
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.