Philippians 1:3–11 (NRSV)
Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians
3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
The season leading up to Christmas and shortly after, is one of my favorite times of the year. I know it sounds pretty cliché but it is not about the gifts, mainly because I am a terrible gift giver. I think it has something to do with the whole concept of leaving my job at a store and going back into a store when I am not working that just has an adverse effect to my mental wellbeing. What is it about this season if it is not the gifts, I really like the gatherings. I love the idea of friends and family coming together and sharing meals and laughter with one another. We live in such a busy spread out culture that we rarely gather, there is too much to do. I love these gathering because these are the times that memories are made. The moments we stop what we are doing to enjoy the fruit of our labors.
The season of advent is a season of longing. It is a season to celebrate the anticipation of the coming messiah. It is a time to recognize the hope that those in ancient days looked forward to and to remember that we too are longing for the fulfilment of that coming to be seen today. I have a fear that as we mature physically and emotionally we forget about the anticipation and longing of the season. Kids on the other hand they get it, well I should clarify that by saying they get the longing of the season though maybe not the reason we should be longing. Advent is filled with longing but also joy. There is hope for those of us in Christ because there is a reason behind our longings, we do not wait appearance of the king, but we are waiting for the return of the king.
There is a difference in these longings. Those of ancient days were longing for the Messiah, they had these preconceived ideas of how this person would look and act. They studied this in great detail, to such a degree that when the one came many missed it. We on the other hand have the actual personality revealed to us, we know what to expect and our hope is not in hypotheses but in observations. There is a difference in the two types of longing. One is based on ideas the other is based on experience. One is founded on interpretation of hope, the other is anticipating the fulfillment of that hope in the world around us. One is like living in the shadow where the other is like turning around and walking toward the light.
This holy anxiety is something that I would like us to consider today. Anxiety might not be the best word to use, but the idea of a joyful anticipation that cannot be stilled in response to this turning from the shadows to walk in the light. Paul understood this holy anxiety. Last week we got a glimpse of it when we read his prayer to the Thessalonians, today we see it again as he writes to the people of Philippi. Both of these places were in Macedonia, both were people Paul was called to minister through the vision he received while at a cross road in Troas. He could have gone south to Ephesus or north across the sea into the heart of the Hellenistic world. God led him to the north and Paul began the ministry that brought the Gospel of Christ to the west.
There is a difference in the joy, the holy anxiety that Paul feels between these two cities. To the Thessalonians the anxiety was a longing that they would remember and to the Philippians there is joy that they have continued. Some biblical scholars feel that a more accurate translation of Paul’s opening would be, “I thank God for your remembrance of me.” Instead of him thanking God when he remembers them. There is something to that statement. They remember him and he is aware of their remembrance. This could only mean that they were participants in the continued ministry that Paul started among them. If you were to look at a map you would see that Paul would have gone from Troas directly to Philippi, and from Philippi to Thessalonica. So the Philippians were the first Macedonians to encounter the Gospel. And they were so engrossed in the new life that Christ had to offer that they assisted Paul in spreading the gospel throughout their land.
I think that it is a valid point that the scholars make because of how Paul continues his greeting and prayer of blessing. The next verses he speaks of the joy that he has for them because they participated in the spreading of the Gospel from the first day until the moment he penned the letter. They were active, their belief was more than just knowledge based but it moved into the deeper regions where they put their very lives into the hands of God and allowed Him to direct their paths.
He says to them, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Witness the holy anxiety. There is a longing not only within the life of Paul but one that he senses within the lives of the community of Philippi. Something began in their lives and it continues to well up within them, it stirs and moves, it makes it difficult to stay still, they are on the verge of becoming charismatic Quakers literally moved by the Spirit. But I want us to focus on the word began. The use of this word means that they are involved in a process that started at one point and is growing. A seed is taking hold and through the fullness of time will bring forth fruit. It began, it continues to press through the anticipation of advent reaching out to that glorious day of the return of the one on whom we lay our hope.
Life with Christ is a process it is a journey that begins, and stretches along life’s pathways as we walk toward the light. The difference between the greeting Paul give the Philippians and that of the Thessalonians is that the Philippians continue to walk with their faces pointing to the sun, where the Thessalonians turned their heads and begun to cast shadows. Paul looks to the Philippians with increasing joy, and those in Thessalonica there is thoughts of nostalgia.
Last week I asked a very personal question, I asked each of us to consider why this meeting called me. I asked this because I have a great deal of love for this meeting, it is something very deep within my spirit. To be fully honest I longed to be here with an anxiety that I could only say was God’s calling. When I left from the care of this meeting, I walked out into the life of being a pastor knowing that eventually I would be back here. What surprised me was the timing. I did not understand the longing that I had stirring within my soul, was it a stirring of nostalgia a longing to return home to the comfort of home or was it this joy similar to what Paul feels with Philippi? That is my own part of this journey. But what is yours? Was the longing that you had one of nostalgia or anticipation for the next phase of the journey?
Paul writes to these people of Philippi, the people that first responded to his ministry in Macedonia, and he longs for them with a longing of continued partnership. He urges them in his prayer to continue pressing on toward the goal before them. He prays that the love of God will overflow among them that they will become a greater blessing to those around them, and that as they continue with their journey toward Christ that the very Spirit of God will grant them greater knowledge and insights in how to proceed.
There is a reason that Paul writes this prayer, because Philippi is a very important place. It was an important port for Macedonia, a center for gladiatorial sport, and the religious cult of Dionysus. We are far removed from the ancient practices of the pre-Christian Roman Empire so many do not understand the importance this has, but Dionysus is the Greek form of the god Bacchus. This is the god of wine, merry-making, and insanity. This god was believed to be a shape shifter that would appear as a drunk man that would shift into a frenzied lion or bear. Those that participated in the worship Dionysus would engage in drunkenness, fornications, and would work themselves up into a violent frenzy where they would rip sacrificial animal apart with their hands. Rituals of this kind were so disorderly and threatening to the community that the roman government was forced to regulate it. Much of the letter to the Philippians was written to encourage the community of Christ to live his lifestyle even though so much of their culture opposed the ideas of Christ.
Remember his prayer again, that love would overflow abundantly, filled with knowledge and insight. This prayer and these words speak volumes to our own culture that seems to be fixated on intoxication, sexuality, and violence. Our current era is far from the debauchery those ancient Philippians witnessed daily. I admit that we as a culture have turned our faces away from the light of Christ and are standing in the shadows instead of facing the light of God’s grace, but there is hope. All we are experiencing today are things that our spiritual ancestors face two thousand years ago and they filled Paul’s life with joy.
We are called also. We are called to live through this time. God has given us gifts to minister to the people of this era, He will continue to give us insight that will direct our paths for His glory. Do not lose heart. Do not lose hope. Have faith that the one who began this work in our lives will see it through. Believe that we will see a harvest. Pray for knowledge, pray for insight, and pray for an overflowing abundance of love. It is the life of Christ that turns people away from the emptiness of the world. It is lives that reflect the holy lifestyle of Christ, that give this broken world hope.
When people experience the love God has for them through us it causes them to question us and themselves. When we live the love of Christ with them and encouraging them to walk in faith they have to respond with belief or rejection. Remember who the people Paul wrote this letter to, they were a people that were once actively pursuing a life totally dedicated to the satisfaction of their own lusts, yet they turned from those ways to embrace life with Christ. They actively pursued this life and spread this life from the very moment they heard and continued long after Paul left from their presence. This tells us that our current culture is not irredeemable, there is still hope. If God can turn Philippians to Him He can do a great work among us.
The question is how do we move from where we are today into that anticipated future in Christ? We get to that place only by loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. We get to that place when we stop arguing about who is right or wrong and encouraging others to embrace life with God.
We live in a culture that is broken, hurting, spiritually sick and hungry. We live in a world that does not need more judgement but hope. We have that hope, we know that Christ came just as the ancients hope for. We know that he was born, lived, and taught us how to live life with God, and He made that life possible through His death and resurrection. He empowers us to continue the work He began by giving us the Holy Spirit who gives us all the gifts we need to spread the Gospel of the kingdom in our communities, states, nation, and world. He gives us gifts of teaching, healing, encouraging, hospitality, wealth, music, art, and various others. He gives these gifts for his glory and our joy. He gives us all we have for this time and this place. I ask again, “why did you call me?” Am I here to pat you on the back and say we are better than others or to encourage you to continue participating in the spreading of the Gospel? I long with the compassion of Christ that his love will overflow more and more among you and this meeting, and that we will see the fulfillment of what He began in our lives.
John 18:33–37 (NRSV)
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
As we head into the holiday season, we begin by remembering the things of which we give thanks. This is one of the greatest traditions in all of America, and is a tradition that is really unique to our culture. When I was in Ukraine and the students I worked with were curious about our culture, the most common question after how much money I had was, “What is Thanksgiving?” How would you answer that question? We say that it is a religious holiday, but has never been a day universally recognized by the greater church body. That being said it does have a spiritual dimensions to it. If we practice it properly we slow down our lives and reflect on things that have true meaning in our lives. Oddly enough the secular and religious communities seem to consider the same things as important on that day, because it is the busiest period of time for travel. And people travel to meet with family and friends. I want us to consider Thanksgiving, as we reflect on this passage today. The activities that we participate in and why it is that we do those things.
I said that the universal church does not necessarily consider this holiday to be one of their liturgical holy days, but that does not mean that the roots do not have spiritual meaning. The first thanksgiving, the one we learned about in grade school, is a day that the pilgrims celebrated the harvest with the indigenous people of America. The reason they celebrated the harvest was because they were puritans, and the puritans were a group of people that attempted to conform all of life around scripture. They were deeply devoted people, and they only celebrated holidays that were listed in scripture. And the holiday that they were celebrating was a form of the Feast of Booths. This particular holiday in ancient days was a feast that lasted seven days, seven because when God commands a celebration He intends that we really celebrate. But this holiday was to remind the people of their exodus and wanderings, how they lived in tents and shared all that they had because all they had was a direct gift from God. As they moved away from the exodus this festival became one of great importance, they were commanded to leave their house for a week, set up camps, and to share the fruits of their harvest. It was a festival that celebrated the end of the growing cycle, and the abundance that was given to them. During this festival all people were considered equal all were wanderers in the world and if someone wandered to your tent they were treated as a guest and were asked to join in your feast. The first thanksgiving was an attempt at recreating this festive atmosphere where we are mindful that all that we have is a blessing from God and it is not to be hoarded but shared.
Today we read a passage that does not seem too festive. Most of us would not choose to read a passage about a trial that would eventually lead to an execution as something to highlight a time to be thankful, but this is actually a beautiful passage. I will be honest, it has been hard for me to focus on one central theme because as I have studied the passage left me sitting in awe. I have found myself reading and then caught up in the words, unable to move forward because the Spirit of God urged me to just consider what is being said more fully. It has been a week filled with reflection.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks to opens the conversation. This is a loaded question, because no matter how Jesus would answer it consequences would follow. Is he the king? Pilate is not asking if he is a rebel wishing to start a revolution, but he is honestly asking if Jesus is the hereditary king or ordained ruler of the Jewish people. The answer that Jesus gives is actually quite intriguing, “Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?” This is intriguing because it causes Pilate and everyone else that reads this passage to reconsider what was being said. Did Pilate consider Jesus the King of the Jews? Did he come to his own conclusion about the personality before him? Did the political power structure truly believe that Jesus was a threat to their status, or was this simply a case of jealousy by people attempting to maintain some semblance of power? By answering Pilate in this manner Jesus causes his questioner to contemplate not only his politics but also the actions of the man before him. He had to actually look at Jesus’ life and lifestyle, the way He lived and consider why Jesus did what he was doing. For the questioner there is no easy answer. Is He the king?
Pilate does not want to actually consider this, it challenges everything he knows in the world. Jesus did not act like anyone else he knew, he did not seek power yet He stood there accused. So Pilate says, “How should I know I’m not a Jew. But why have your own leaders sent you here?”
This is where this passage gets me. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” This single verse is what caused me to stop and think for the past week. Words like fight, from, world, kingdom, and followers all seemed to lunge toward me leapt from the page and implant themselves into my mind. I realized I never really understood what was being spoken.
Imagine yourself in the conversation. Jesus is telling you these words. “My kingdom, what I find most important is not what you think. If it was I would have armed agents keeping me from being arrested. This is not about a debate or a championship bout, the things you spend your day investing in. What I find most important is not territory, power, or fame. I am interested in life.”
This is why this passage struck me as beautiful. It is a testimony of peace and freedom, but not because it has been liberated but because it is released. So often we think of our faith in Christ as a battle between good and evil, a war between what is right and wrong, but in our fights we can become distracted. Jesus says if my kingdom was the same as yours my followers would fight. The word fight used here is to describe a contest between athletes in an arena or a debate within a forum. These are the things that are important to the world. Connected to a “fight” in this sense of the word is fame, fortune, entertainment, and power. The idea of convincing people that you or your ideas are the most important or that you are the champion. It speaks of numbers, votes, status, and wealth everything that the world deems as being symbols of status and worth in a society. Jesus is saying if that is what I wanted you could not have touched me, but that is not at all what is important. What is important is much deeper.
What then is his kingdom? If he is not interested in the fight, or the debate what is important? This is the heart of the feast of Thanksgiving. The feast of Booths and the day of thanksgiving revolves around everything Jesus came to bring us. A life of abundance, a life filled with joys of companionship. We gather in the dining rooms on a holiday for no other reason than to enjoy the company of other. We visit with the people that we do not have to fight with to be seen as acceptable.
In my family Thanksgiving was probably the most important holiday of the year. As I am speaking here today my family is making their way from Texas, Colorado, and all across Kansas to meet together in a small town in the middle of nowhere. My family has a wide range of political views, they have various careers, and differing ideas on religious practice (though predominately Quaker). But when it comes to family all those differences fall away. My salary is of no concern, my job only matters if it brings joy, and politics might make interesting conversation but they do not really care. The important thing is that we are there together. If we cannot be together someone will pick up a phone and everyone will yell their greetings. We eat, we laugh, we enjoy a game, and we sing. Everyone gives something and no one leaves without a deep sense of belonging.
His kingdom is not from the world. His kingdom is from something deeper, a place that connects us together in ways that go beyond the superficial. His kingdom is life. His kingdom revolves around our relationships with each other and with God. It removes all the things our society deems important. Everyone sits together equal, sharing what we have to encourage and bless those around us.
Pilate listens to Jesus as He basically told him that everything he stands for is pointless, and Pilate ask, “So you are a king?” Pilate missed the point. He acknowledge that Jesus had something great, that there was something that gave Jesus power over the people but he did not quite understand what the use of that power was for. He did not get it because he is a man from the world instead of a man dedicated to life. Jesus responds again saying that he came for one reason, to testify to the truth, and that everyone that belongs to truth hears his voice.
As I sat this week contemplating this passage, it occurred to me that often I am just like Pilate. I miss the point and I enter into the fights of the world. I engage in debates trying to convince those around me that my way of thinking is the right way and if they disagree they are wrong. I spend my time chasing after the things that hold value in society, a job title and the influence that that can bring as well as the income. That is why it struck me so hard. I toil and struggle wondering if I am a success or a failure, and all I really need is right here around me. It is in the screams of joy I hear when I walk through the door. It is in the songs of praise I lift up on a Sunday morning. It is in the shared meals that I have with friends and family every day of the week. The most important things are not the achievements or the gains but it is the things shared. It is the shared life and the holy rhythm that Jesus taught us a life of worship, prayer, and service. The life of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. That is why Jesus came, he came to save us from the emptiness of the world so that we could know the truth of life. Life with Him and each other.
As we enter into this time of Holy Expectancy and communion in the manner of Friends, let us reflect of the truth that Jesus brought us. Let us consider the life he wishes to give us, and let us be released to live the truth of Thanksgiving.
Hebrews 9:11–14 (NRSV)
11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
This weekend is filled with many events. The royals are playing in New York in the World Series for the second year in a row. This is something that amazes me, I can only say that it is obviously an omen for the good things that are on the brink of happening. But major sporting events aside, this weekend is also a very religious time of year, today is All Saints day. For most of us here we do not quite understand what exactly All Saints day is but it is a day set aside to honor all the known and unknown saints that have made significant contributions to the church and to our lives. Tomorrow is another holy day called All Souls day, which is the Christian equivalent of Memorial Day, a day to remember those people that have passed beyond the vail of life into eternity and to praise God for the opportunity to have known them. Yesterday, a day where most children in the community are actually encouraged to take candy from strangers to supply their parents with the necessary sugar to embrace and survive the days leading up to Christmas, is also a very important day. We commonly know it as Halloween, or All Hallows eve, but it is also a significant day in the church because it is a day that marks the beginning of the reformation. It is not surprising that this weekend is so significant. It is a time that we remember what God has done through individuals, and it is also a time to remember the work that continues.
This time of year has often been a struggle for me personally. There is this constant reminder throughout history that although this is a holy time of year for the church, it also has a dark side. When I was younger this time of year was always associated with evil. So as a child wanting to be a good Christian I struggled with participating in the celebrations, but the idea of free candy was enough for me to go along and ask for forgiveness later. But more recently it has become even harder for me, because this is the anniversary of the death of my little sister. For many years Halloween has been my least favorite holiday.
This whole time of year reminded me of the doubts and questions that I have about faith. It reminds me of the fragileness of life and how thin that vail between life and death really is. I still struggle at times. I struggle with grief, with depression, with a view of hopelessness and that everything we do is pointless. Why do I tell you all this? I tell you because living a life with and for Christ is difficult. At times it seems it would be easier to just throw our hands in the air and give up. But then something began to change. I began to sense that there was something more working just beneath the surface. I had this yearning to seek, to find, and suddenly I began to see pinpoints of light begin to shine in the dark.
These feelings, I imagine, are the same type of feelings the first century followers of Christ might have felt. They had this long history of God working in their nation, and then seemingly everything fell apart. They fell from being the light of nations, to living in exile. They return from exile only to become prisoners in their own land. Every so often some light would shine but it seemed that the darkness would overcome. They gathered up in group that would make attempts at explaining why the world was crashing around them and what they could do to improve the situation, but all the while darkness continued to push in on them. So they would push back.
We look at the various religious groups mentioned in scripture and we often judge them. The Pharisees were just legalistic individuals that were blind to the reality of God’s kingdom, the Sadducees were just liberal individuals wanting to keep the institution going to line their own pockets, we could continue on with the list, but the point is they were people feeling the pressures of a rapidly changing era. We look at them, we look at them through the lenses of history but do we learn?
The writer of Hebrews was a man that was intimate with the inner working of the religious community. He knew the theology. He knew the rituals, and the implications and symbolisms that they possessed. This is why many scholars believe that this letter was not written by Paul but by someone of the priestly class. So when the writer of Hebrews speaks about the priests, it is not from the outside but the inside. The priests, the temple, this lifestyle of religiosity was in many ways the only light that people could see, their only hope. They were not a people that could pull out a cell phone and instantly find answers to their questions because Wikipedia had yet to be invented. I did not have the constant news updates that we have today. All they had was their community, and their tradition. We can look at the people of ancient days and say why didn’t you see the light, but they may not have known any better.
The writer of Hebrews, is speaking to the people that were not swayed by the newest things. He is speaking to the people that are grounded in their faith, and have full trust in the institutions that have provided them hope. Today we read in the ninth chapter of Hebrews. In the first ten verses the writer speaks about the place of worship, the significance of that space, and the rituals that happen there. He then says, “But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come.” This is odd wordage. When reading this we are not getting the full effect of what is being said. I do not envy the people that translate the scripture, because how do you translate the idea of emerging hope? That is what the writer is trying to explain. This idea of something different a new era in life with God. This is also why he uses the illustration of the Tent of Meeting used during the exodus instead of the image of the temple, because that symbolism is such that God is not dwelling in a building far away but is camped out right in the middle of the community. Before God was only accessible through the priest in a temple, but now God is with us.
This is the good things that have come, the era of God with us. Similar to the tent that traveled where the people traveled but far greater because there is no separation. The tent, the temple, the very idea of holiness is changing form into something far better and more perfect. God is all around us and in us.
Wait am I just reading into this passage something that is not there? Let us go back a step. The author says, “[Greater] and perfect tent.” I want to look at the word greater for a moment. This term in English we can see as simply better. I just used that term actually, but greater is far greater than what our language can convey. The idea being implied is of greater status, or might. It is a term that speaks of position. When John the Baptist spoke of Jesus he said that the one to come was greater than him, of which he, John, was not worthy to even untie the laces of his sandals. This is the greater that the writer of Hebrews is speaking. Everything that came before is not even worthy of performing the lowest of tasks before the majesty of the one to come. Let us then consider the greatness that John spoke about. John cried out in the wilderness calling all to repent and be baptized. Saying, “I baptize with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
This idea of baptism for repentance is much deeper than ritual cleansing. It was the idea that as you are immersed in the waters that the water would carry away all the impurities and that those that repent would be saturated with purity. The ritual of baptism is just a shadow of the greater things of which the writer of Hebrews speaks. The Greater things is God with and in us, we being saturated with the very spirit of God.
God with us that is what the author is telling us. The rituals carry great symbolism but they are empty without Christ, and with Christ they are insignificant. They may help direct us but they are not even worthy of the lowest status. Consider that for a moment, because that is where so many of us get trapped.
We get trapped looking at the shell instead of what is filling the shell. We get trapped fulfilling our interpretations of the law, or what is required to be holy and we miss the reality of what God really wants. We become like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old making vain attempts of trying to change the darkness by pushing back. We settle for the husk instead of the fruit. Jesus does not call us to institutes but he calls us to follow him. He calls us to walk with him, pray with him, and serve with him. He desires to be with us.
I mentioned that often this time of year can be one of the most depressing times for me personally, but that has begun to change. I say this because I do enjoy history so I get excited about considering the lives of the saints. I have looked into the circumstances that various people lived through that lead them to become what we consider great people of faith. I have looked into the lives of people like Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius. I look into their lives because they were strong people of faith that encouraged those that would listen to them to live their faith out in the community. I have studied about the life and ministry of our own traditions founder, George Fox, and I see something very similar. Each of these people that I consider saints show us something profound. They lived through trying times where everything seemed to be going the opposite direction, the world around them seemed to be moving away from God instead of toward Him. Each of these individuals suffered trials of various kinds, and each through the power of the Spirit were bearers of light in the darkness. These saints and many more like them faced the trials, reformed the church, and left a legacy whose ripples continue throughout history.
As I have walked this path of faith, seeking and attempting to find what is happening just beneath the surface I have also had to consider the events of my own life. I have spoken of many instances in my life that have been instrumental in my formation. Those events are not always pleasant. The death of my sister, Candice, sent my life in a spiral. Not many would have been able to see what was going on inside because I got very good at hiding behind the façade I constructed. For a while I rejected all things of God. He could not be real since terrible things happened to such an innocent girl. I realized looking back that as I ran and made choices each of those events, each step I took seemingly away from God was actually leading me back into His arms.
I look back on the lives of the saints, on the lives of the souls, at the reformers, and those that just lived lives of faith, and I see hope. Because there is a greater more perfect tent through which our High Priest is bringing about the good things to come. I look out at the events surrounding us and I see hope. Do I want to live through these trying times? Absolutely not. But this is where we are, this is the time and place that Christ is calling us to follow Him through. This is the era in which God formed and is forming us to serve. Will we rise to the race set before us?
The Pharisees and Sadducees lived in the turmoil of an emerging era and history often sees them as villains unable to see the light. The author of Hebrews challenges us to purify our consciences of dead works and worship the living God. Often I am like those religious leaders devout to the traditions of old, but missing the life that God wants me live. Often I can get caught up in the legalistic based righteousness, and try to push back on those that oppose my ideals. But God has shown this to the dead works of imperfection. God used the pain, He used the sin, and He used the trials to lead me to His grace. It was and is often a painful journey, but I want to be a Friend of God. I want to be a disciple that follows Jesus. He is calling us to a different, and far greater life. A life that is saturated with His very spirit. And that life is a lifestyle that revolves around prayer, worship, and service. It is becoming people that are loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter this time of Open worship, Holy Expectancy, and communion in silence I encourage us all to contemplate the lives of those that have gone before us. Look into those trials that they face and the trials that God has allowed us to face and ask the Spirit to fill the gaps between our understandings and to show us a way forward through the darkness and pain.