Keep on Keeping on – Rev’d Jonathan Gale

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Isaiah 65: 17 – 25

2 Thessalonians 3: 6 – 13

Luke 21: 5 – 19

Anxiety plagues our society and apparently Christians are no less anxious than the average non-believer.

This in spite of a theme that runs through Scripture that assures us that God is at work to set things right and that all of history is leading to the eventual triumph of good over evil.

Perhaps that is why we love stories like The Lord of the Rings where overwhelming evil is eventually overcome by a faithful little band of people prepared to make sacrifices in order that good might prevail.

Gandalf says, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

There are some beautiful passages in the Scriptures that assure us of God’s regenerating work in the earth, an example being promises of a glorious future of which we read in the Isaiah passage this morning.

18 But be glad and rejoice for ever
   in what I am creating;
says God.

No room for anxiety in there.

When we lose sight of the fact that God has plans that are not dependent upon your performance or my performance, we lose the perspective of history, the long-term view that God has. We place too much emphasis on our individual ability to please God. This is one of the great insights of the Reformation. It is God that does; we recognise and respond accordingly. How we respond to Jesus’ work on the cross is how we should respond to God’s ongoing work in the world, with faith.

God does have a plan and purpose for the earth. And speaking of the Reformation, its over-correcting zeal led to a highly individualistic approach to the Gospel. Again, God’s purposes are not dependant upon our responses but upon God’s covenant faithfulness.

Yes, it is up to us to respond individually. We are individuals with personal responsibility and can hardly do otherwise. But the context of our responses is God’s faithful and purposeful activity.

That, more than anything, is why we should not be anxious.

It is within this context that Jesus, in the fulness of time (in other words when God deemed it to be the correct moment) came to earth to announce that the Kingdom of God was upon us: God’s initiative. And what is our response? To repent and believe the Good News.

In the passage from Luke this morning Jesus discusses a number of anxiety-producing events:

  • “Do not go after them,” says Jesus in response to the prospect of false Messiahs.
  •  “Do not be terrified,” he says in response to rumours of wars and insurrections.
  • “Make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance,” he says in response to being arrested and tried for the faith.

Now these are not situations likely to affect you and me in New Zealand, but Jesus’ advice can be summarised as, “Don’t panic. With an eye upon God, put one foot in front of the other.”

Nobel prize-winner for literature,  songwriter Bob Dylan, in a state of uncertainty, writes,

“The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue.”

To keep on keepin’ on. Perseverance with an eye on the end goal, keeping an even keel – these are the things that will not only enable us to get through, but to do so with less anxiety because we appreciate that we are in the midst of God’s plan. We are following the Good Shepherd.

We are an essential element because God always achieves things through others, but let us be found in Christ. That is our responsibility. It is so much easier to be independent of God, working for God. God in fact call us to be in Christ working with Christ.

Jesus words in this Gospel reading this morning end with, 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Sometimes images are important. Too often we see ourselves as lonely individuals, facing a Christ who has expectations of us. Far more helpful a picture, I think, is of ourselves as one of many, following the Master who goes ahead.

It is he who fights our fights, who bears our burdens. It is ours to follow in the lovely company of those whom we call the church.