I hope you like the photograph. It could be sunrise, or it could be sunset. Which is it?
Impossible to tell without more information. Where is it? What coastline or lake is in the frame? Was it looking east or west? Who took the photo, and why? Only the photographer can tell us that (unless by some amazing chance you have been at the same place, the same time, and with the same weather conditions).
When reading the Bible we can find ourselves in a similar dilemma. What does it mean? Who was or is the target audience? What kind of literature is it from? Who wrote it, when, and where- and why. Understanding and correctly interpreting the words is a serious responsibility and a worthwhile task.
This Sunday is the pivot between two years: one we have lived, one we await. I am preaching in our church in the morning- do I look back over the year, or look forward to the future? I will build the message round the exhortation “In all things give thanks” from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church. Paul’s challenge to the early Christian church still has relevance in our own time.
I will be standing in the gateway of the year. The things that have happened cannot be ignored. Good experiences should be celebrated; sadness and disappointment should be remembered. To help make the message clear, I shall also refer to Psalm 56 (especially verse 8- go on, look it up…)
Psalms were written to help God’s people to give thanks and to lament sorrows. These opposites are like two sides of a single coin. Its full value is only held when both sides are together. A one-sided coin is virtually valueless. Recognising the existence of both sides allows the expression of honest faith- and God always looks at the heart for true worship.
What has been experienced in 2018 needs to be acknowledged before God and in the gathering of the believers. Faith requires forms of worship that embrace suffering and well as joy, hope alongside despair. Our world contains the good and the bad, and integrity demands both should be acknowledged. Christianity is sometimes thought of as a form of “insurance” against Acts of God! No, no, no.
It is really an expression of both the mysteries and the revelation that are at the heart of our faith. It is necessary to set our perspective to include eternal values and their impact on our understanding. Each small moment is a merest fraction of the totality.
Therefore tomorrow I will be pointing towards thanksgiving; and helping us with the less familiar aspect of lamentation. This will be set in the context of what God is like, and how He responds to our expressions of faith.
We will see that faith is not just about WHAT we believe- but also in WHOM we believe.
Is it a sunset moment? Or a new sunrise? Perhaps we should point out that the Sun will shine on this scene from both directions- and in that we will discover its full beauty.