Sunday, October 24, 2010

God is Faithful

Joel 2:23-32
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 15-18
Luke 18:9-14

In all three of the readings for this morning, the fact that struck me most was God's absolute faithfulness. I was astounded at how incredibly good God is--and it's everywhere in the readings today: In Joel's prophecy to the people of Israel; in Paul's testimony to Timothy; in the story Jesus tells of a tax collector and a Pharisee praying in the Temple. In all three readings, God's faithfulness is absolute.

We see God's faithfulness first in Joel, as the Lord declares that He will repay Israel for the years that the swarming Locusts have eaten--the locusts which God has sent. You see, as this point in Israel's history, things had been going well. God had been gracious; and people began to think that they did not need God. They began to live as though they did not need God. God was willing to do anything to bring them back. Bringing destruction and restoration is what led to Israel's homecoming.

And what a homecoming it is! God's abundant grace is poured out upon Israel! The threshing floor is filled once again with grain, and the vats are overflowing with new wine and oil. God does not just give Israel enough to fill their vessels; God pours out blessings so abundant, their vessels are overflowing!

We see God's redemption in Luke as well. Jesus tells us that a tax collector who humbled himself before God was justified. A slave to his sin, this man was freed, redeemed by God.

We see also in today's readings that God is faithful to fulfill His promises. Twice in Joel we read God's promise to "pour out His Spirit." This promise was fulfilled, and it is a promise God continues to fulfill today.

Jesus, at the start of his ministry, was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him, like a dove. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and proceeded to preach the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles. God's promise continues to be fulfilled today--pouring out the Holy Spirit upon believers; choosing us for a relationship with Him.

Finally, God's faithfulness is demonstrated in today's readings by His steadfast presence. Paul writes to Timothy that although all had deserted him, the Lord stood by him and gave him strength. Paul was imprisoned repeatedly for preaching the gospel of Christ. Here, he tells us that on the first occasion, no one came to his support. Yet, the presence of God continued to sustain and strengthen Paul. God was faithful, remaining steadfastly by Paul's side--just a s God does for us today.

Our response to God's faithfulness-what happens to us, in us, and how we show that to the world--is also found in today's scriptures.

The first response to God's faithfulness is a radical change of heart. God's call to a change of heart can be found earlier in Joel. As God calls the people to mourn their sin, He declares, "Rend your hearts and not your garments." It was common practice in ancient Israel for people to tear their clothing as a sign of mourning. But God was not concerned with the rituals and outward signs. God did not want Israel to appear to mourn. God wanted Israel to truly mourn--to feel it in their hearts--to radically change the way they lived.

The same can be seen int he parable Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee is so consumed by his own righteousness, he is blinded to his own hard heart. The Pharisee is only concerned with looking righteous--loudly declaring that he fasts twice a week and give one tenth of all his income.

But it is the tax collector, Jesus tells us, who understands what God desires. Standing far off, away from the crowd, beating his breast--the very resting place of his heart!--he pleads with God for mercy, acknowledging his sin. This is a man who so mourns his sin, he cannot even look to heaven. This, this is the man, Jesus tells us, who is justified. Not the one who looks like he does all the right stuff, bu the one who has a heart radically changed by God's grace. (And it is only by God's grace that we acknowledge and mourn our sin).

In experiencing this change of heart, who can help but rejoice in God's goodness, and praise the Lord? In Joel, the Israelites are told that they shall "eat plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord."

Paul continually gives thanks to God, and declares that to God "be the glory forever and ever."

When we experience that change of heart, when God pours out His Spirit upon us, and we recognize our sin, when we turn from that sin and choose to follow Jesus instead, we are filled with such joy and peace, and such gratitude that glorifying God becomes a very present act in our lives.

This praise of God further encourages us to rely more fully on this faithful God who redeems us, fulfills His promises, and demonstrates steadfast love and care for us.

While other humans will inevitably fail us--leaving us when we most need them, betraying us when we have trusted them with our hearts, breaking promises they have made--God never fails us. And we come to see that we can turn to God with all our needs and desires.

Friends failed and deserted Paul--but Paul relied fully on God.

The Pharisee relied on his own righteous works, but it was the tax collector relying on God's grace who was commended.

Israel sought to rely on only on themselves, but it was God who called them back, offering redemption, fulfilling His promises, and showing His steadfast nature to all of humanity--and all this through the persons of Jesus and the Holy Spirit today.

Those of us here today come from many walks of life, I imagine. But regardless of where we come from, or where we are heading, we can be assured right now, where we are today, that God loves us; that God will do anything to keep us; that God never changes; and that God fulfills His promises.

We have been shown this love and redeemed by God through Jesus. As such, may we go forward this day with a heart rent for God, with God's praises continually on our lips and in our hearts, relying fully on God to meet all our needs so that in the end, we, too, can declare with Paul, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."

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