November 18, 2017

How Do We "Get Free From the Darkness That Ensnares Us" (Proper 33)

The Collect is a prayer that focuses us on the general theme of the readings for each Sunday in liturgical churches. Proper 33 is the last Sunday in the Church year before the "Reign of Christ" (next week) which marks the end of Year A. This is important as a final message generally sums up all that has gone before. The readings begin with a contrast between the disasters that fell on the Hebrew people when they abandoned God, and the military victories and good times when they returned to faith and kept the Covenants of Abraham and Moses. Paul's letter to the people in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5.1-11) describes this contrast as between people of light and people of darkness. The parable of the Talents (75 lbs. of silver) is a reminder that Jesus will come back to judge us based on what we have done with the gifts we have been given in life. This is not about good works but about faith, hope and the development of spiritual life.

1. What was the darkness ensnared the "wicked servant"?
Notice that he was not accused of the usual sins we think of as preventing inclusion in the Kingdom of God:

·         Murder
·         Adultery
·         Idolatry
·         Lust etc.

He was instead ensnared by:
·         Sloth (laziness)
·         Fear of failure and his master (Jesus)
·         His lack of faith and hope.

His choices and behaviour proved that he did not really "believe in Jesus" in his heart and this was the reason why he was put out of the Kingdom of God. The good news is that Paul gives us four things to do to be ready for either our death or the Day of the Lord. Christians are not to be surprised and unready like the wicked servant:

 1.    We are to be awake spiritually -- Not a "Slumbering Spirit"
John and Paula Sandford use this term to define a condition where a personal spirit has not been called to life and is slumbering. Normally our personal spirit is called to life as it senses the warm love and affection of parents. Our personal spirit is the intuitive part of us that connects us to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and other people that we are in an emotional relationship with.
  • ·         I share my own experience of being called to spiritual life through the love of my wife Lucille in my about to be published manuscript "Going Spiritual"
  • ·         This is the part of us that enables us to move from knowing about Jesus and the Holy Spirit intellectually; to knowing them personally, through experiences, as a real person
  • ·         These personal experiences of the divine are the building blocks of faith and trust, as opposed to intellectual knowledge

2. We are to put on the breastplate of Faith and Love
This is to remind us that our hearts are vulnerable to attack. The Bible clearly teaches us that Satan and temptation is always a real and potentially spiritually fatal danger (especially for born-again Christians who don't believe this). The breastplate and helmet were the two most important pieces of armor for a Roman soldier.
  • ·         Faith in the heart  or trust in Jesus comes from our experiences of being protected, forgiven and healed through prayer
  • ·         Love -- real self-sacrificial love grows through faith and experience as we develop the courage to overcome our fear.

3. We are to put on the hope of salvation as a helmet
Our minds are often deceived and ruled by our fear. We are most afraid of death as the end of our life. Some people are subconsciously afraid of death as a time of judgement and punishment. 
  • As we grow and develop our spiritual life and Jesus becomes a real person for us, we also develop this hope
  • ·        Belief in forgiveness and personal salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus enables us to overcome our fears and live a life of joy and peace

4. We are to build each other up

Churches can be very destructive if they over focus on correct doctrine and become what I call "St. Judges" in my book. Churches need to balance the four pillars of community, orthodoxy, relevance and outreach to encourage and build each other up in spiritual life.

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