Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Sword or a Cup?

Despite the somewhat muggy, drizzly weather, the sanctuary was vibrant with chatter and enthusiasm prior to the service beginning. Chuck could hardly get our attention to begin, leading us today because Brad and family are off in Colorado this week.

Opening announcements included Pam's reminder that we are again collecting school supplies for local schools and needy students in our community. Joanne mentioned that it is time to sign up for Sunday school if you can help this coming year in some capacity. Also, today was the last day for getting your picture taken for our new church directory. The church directory is a wonderful tool for helping us learn one another's names and getting us connected. It is also a useful tool for helping members pray for one another.

Chuck handed out a handout developed by the Deacons itemizing various ways in which our church family can participate in building up the church body. The handout was titled God's Body Building Plan, based on I Corinthians 12:12, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." As Chuck noted, we need to exercise our faith, not just our (physical) bodies.

Today's Scripture readings were from Psalm 111 and John 6:51-58.

A time of worship, offering and time of prayer were all part of the first half of our service leading into guest speaker Leonard Armstrong's message.

A Sword or a Cup

After an amusing anecdotal comment Leonard had us turn to Hebrews 4:12-13.

12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

When we think of swords many images come to mind such as the Three Musketeers with rapiers drawn, for example, or Olympic fencing. Historically, there have been embarrassing moments in church history where unbelievers were converted at the point of a sword. Charlemagne and the Crusades come to mind here.

But the word used in Hebrews 4, Leonard noted, was making reference to a very specific sword, the two-edged sword wielded by Roman soldiers. It was a weapon of annihilation. In warfare during Roman times people lived in walled cities. When the Roman army would break through the wall, those very walls of protection would become walls of entrapment as the sword wielding Romans brutally slaughtered men, women and children.

Paul here compares God's word to a living sword that penetrates the deepest parts of the heart.

Leonard pointed out that whereas the Word is a sword, it is not the manner in which Christians are to manifest their faith. Our stance is very different from the ruthless brutality exhibited by Roman legions. It is the Holy Spirit's role to convict of sin. Paul's instructions for us are better illustrated in his second letter to Timothy, verses 20-26.

20In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

22Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Leonard pointed out the the word "articles" in verse 20 has a deliberately indefinite meaning, something akin to saying our house has lots of "stuff" in it. Some of these articles are more useful than others. In a sense, we are to be like cups and bowls, containers of God's love. Paul instruction is that we be converted from useless to useful articles.

Salvation is not God's endgame. It is a first step. Transformation is the next.

In Biblical times homes were small and there weren't as many things, but there were "large houses" or "great houses" in which a whole assortment of things were present, including articles of gold and silver. We are not to be swords, but instruments... and God is waiting to transform us from ordinary to extraordinary articles of silver and gold. Leonard noted that silver and gold cannot be destroyed by fire.

Fill your life with noble deeds, he said, so that you do not have time for ignoble.

In the latter portion of this passage Leonard noted that we should not quarrel, that we should instead be kind to everyone, not just fellow Christians or people who smell and look like you. Instruct with gentleness, Paul said. The Holy Spirit will wield the two-edged sword.

No comments: