Links to post for November 15 and referring to the set readings for November 15, 2020 (Year A)
What we are given by God, we are given to hold lightly and to use for Him. When we don’t have much, it is easier to see the provision as coming from God and to honour Him for it. When times are better, we become more possessive — and that’s where it all starts to go wrong.
Zephaniah lived in Jerusalem around the time of Jeremiah, before the exile and in Judah’s patchy and rebellious history. He spoke and write at one of the better times — a king making reforms and relative prosperity. But there was a deep-seated problem. People’s hearts were not right. As God’s own people, they thought, whatever happened, salvation was no less than their entitlement. History shows how wrong they were! Foreign oppressors had been bought off before with the nation’s silver and gold. Zephaniah warned that it would not work this time. He said that God would punish those that were complacent and undisturbed about the growing threat. His description of God just judgment, or wrath, is graphic and shocking.
In our time (2020) we face a threat that should have anyone of any level of faith calling out to God, turning to Him for help. It’s not just the pandemic, challenging though that is for the health service and for ordinary people alike. There is also the unprecedented damage to the economy, widespread loss of income and employment, and disrupted education. Then there’s the social cost of older people being isolated and families not allowed to meet with wider family and friends.
It’s a wake up call at a time when faith, measured by church attendance or any other indicator, is at an all time low. Church leaders have been more ready to speak about politics than God’s message of hope for all who turn to Him.
Where Zephaniah quotes God as saying, “I will bring such distress…”, Zeph 1:17, the question for us is whether history is repeating itself. God always provides a way out. The way is open for us to turn to Him again, even if gathering in a church building is not allowed at this time. This is our call to reflect with humility and ask Him whether we are “those who are complacent”, v.12.
Jesus told a story on more than one occasion about a wealthy man who assigned considerable wealth in trust to his servants. They were to manage his assets while he was away on a long journey. We call it the Parable of the Talents because of the Greek word which originally referred to a weight of silver or gold that would wind up an airline’s scales to severe excess baggage! We apply it more widely to the whole spread of gifts and resource that God gives us. And He assigns us a responsibility to use it for Him, to put it to work for Him. On the story, two of the servants received staggering amounts of wealth. They then acted as responsible stewards, taking some risk and investing in a way which brought the kind of return that Silicon Valley would consider extraordinary. One, however, was not a good servant and certainly not a responsible steward. He hid his allotment for safekeeping, returning it to the master without showing any gain at all.
The point is about the very high value of the impartation that Jesus has made in us. That came to us as we made our choice to receive Him into our hearts as Lord. It’s a decision that costs us our independence, giving up our lives to Him. But then He gives us back our lives greatly enriched with the expectation that we tell others. As we share the new life that we have, the gifts, the praise, the love and the faith are all multiplied. In this instance, the ‘R number’ for our discipleship is meant to be high! That is the meaning of the very high return that Jesus described in His story.
As we confront our natural complacency and give away what God has given us, He gives us more. That is a principle we see here that applies at all sort of levels. Churches which are struggling for members and for ways to meet their budget don’t need fund-raising. They need kingdom generosity, and the anti-complacent courage to set a budget for their mission and evangelism. They need to audit honestly what they are offering to those who are not members or attenders.
The young church of Christian believers in the Greek city of Thessalonica was hardly guilty of complacency. Paul writes to them saying that they know very well that the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief in the night. But His teaching is that even so, even with that kind of awareness and expectation of an early return, they could easily lapse into the kind of attitudes of the unbelieving people around them. You don’t live in that kind of darkness, Paul said, but the awareness of knowing Jesus and belonging to the day and walking in His light. So believers should encourage each other to live in faith and love and the confidence of those receiving salvation, at all times.
This is both a challenge and an encouragement for us in our time. World events and present difficulties are a constant reminder to be prayerfully watchful, holding on to the kind of values Jesus taught us. But if we know Jesus, we are not in darkness, not unaware, not cut off from God’s answer — we too are not in darkness but belong to the light and have Christ’s light in us, with which to encourage others.
We are the ones who know the nature of this wake-up call to faith. We know who to return to!. Our responsibility, as those who have been given so much, and those who are gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to find ways of being light to others, showing them the path of salvation, showing them even through our humanness, something of the reality of the Saviour we know.
Are we complacent about the reality of Christ’s return, and passive about using what He has given us? Are we keeping our spiritual riches hidden in a hole, or taking some risk with finding ways to use them? If Christ returns as you are reading this, will He find you faithful and ready for Him — or still thinking about it?