Summary: When we are frustrated by a seeming lack of progress in our Christian walk, God gives us a wonderful promise! (18th Sunday after Pentecost)
BEGUN, CONTINUED, COMPLETED IN CHRIST (Philippians 1:6)
Most worthwhile things in life take time: developing a marriage relationship, building a career, raising children, etc. As Christians, and as members of a congregation, however, we can sometimes become frustrated when we don’t see things happening as quickly as we would like them to. Today, God’s Word has a wonderful promise for us: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1. HE: The emphasis is on God, who he is, and what he does. How often do we begin by acting, thinking, or speaking about things as if “I” am the only one who can do it? An important part of doing what I do as a pastor is to realize that I can’t do it by myself. God carefully designed the church so that it wasn’t about any one person or personality. I have my strong and weak points, and so do you. Instead of trying to “go it alone”, we need to learn to rely on each other. Now, if that is true of our relationship with each other, how much more is it true of our relationship with God! As we prayed in today’s collect, “Lord…without you we cannot but fall.” This kind of confidence in God is also beautifully expressed in several of the Psalms which were selected for today: “Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me.” (Psalm 54:4) “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
2. WHO BEGAN: Sometimes children argue about “who started it”—who is responsible. But when it comes to our salvation, there can be no dispute: God is the one who started it! This means that our being rescued from sin, death and the devil is due only to the fact that God first loved us enough to send his Son as the only way of salvation. It was an act of completely undeserved love, of which we were altogether unworthy. In spite of that, God now lovingly calls and brings us to faith through the Gospel, the good news of what Jesus has done for us. This gospel invitation is expressed beautifully in Isaiah “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (55:6-7) The fact that only God can accomplish our salvation means that, even from the beginning, it is a work of grace. Whenever a wicked person forsakes his ways and turns to God, it is because God, by grace, has begun something new in that person.
3. A GOOD WORK: When you praise a child for something they do, you often say, “Good job!” How nice it is, even as adults, to hear those words. Even though God needs no flattery, and is not dependent on our compliments for his self-esteem, he still enjoys hearing us thank and praise him for all he is and does. In fact, the work God is doing, even this morning, is nothing short of amazing! God’s constant activity is accurately summed up in the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed: creation, redemption, and sanctification. By creation, we mean that God not only made us, but that he also keeps us by providing for our daily needs and protecting us from harm. By redemption we mean that God rescued us from death and hell and released us from slavery to sin by providing a ransom: Jesus’ innocent death in our place. Sanctification means that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has brought us to saving faith in Christ. We now enjoy the peace of God’s forgiveness and we gladly want to live a new life to the glory of God. In fact, once we stop and consider all God does for us, “good work” actually seems like a bit of an understatement!
4. IN YOU: Now, sometimes it might seem like God isn’t doing anything in your life. Other times, his work might seem to be taking an almost unbearable length of time before it is finished. Yes, his ways are sometimes hard to understand. In a parable Jesus told, the workers in the vineyard who were hired at the beginning of the day couldn’t understand why others who were hired at the end of day were paid just as much as they were. Jesus’ answer was that the owner of the vineyard had the right to do as he pleased with the workers he hired. In Isaiah God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:7-9) At those times, we need to rely on faith. Just because we can’t see him doing anything doesn’t mean that he isn’t! Remember that some of the most amazing work God does is within us. God works in us through the means of Grace—through His Word, through Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. He forgives our sins, and he assures us of his love. He says to us, even in the midst of hardship, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Change takes place from the inside out. How many times, when we pray for God to change something, do we later discover that we are the ones he wanted to change all along!