Thursday, October 11,
2018 11:17AM / By Olukonyinsola Ajayi, SAN
In line with its corporate strategy to drive transformation through its products, processes and services, FirstBank has announced a three-day Financial Technology (FinTech) summit.
“We give thee but thine own, whate'er the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee. May we thy bounties thus as stewards true receive, and gladly, as thou blessest us, to thee our first-fruits give... To comfort and to bless, to find a balm for woe, to tend the lonely in distress, is angels' work below. The captive to release, to God the lost to bring, to teach the way of life and peace - it is a Christ-like thing. And we believe thy Word, though dim our faith may be; whate'er for thine we do, O Lord, we do it unto thee. Amen”†
1. The political parties have held their conventions and elected, or as the case may, be selected or imposed, their candidates for the coming elections in Nigeria. This has brought into sharp focus the quest for perfection in achieving political ambitions, in as much as it exhibits perfection in rigging, corruption and all manner of unethical and illegal action by those seeking office or power. We see the profession of politics in full play and will see more of this in the months to come. As usual false promises will be made; just as we hope true plans will be laid out, on how best to cure the ills of society and to let us begin to see the Kingdom of God on earth. For party candidates, primaries is harvest time, time to reap the reward of politicking, bribery, stomach infrastructure, rigging, working the electorate, performance in office and both good and bad campaigns. This political harvest time coincides with harvest of the Church and thus lays ground for lessons to learn for all men. Plans are in full gear by many to get the perfect result they seek from elections, as others do with professional life, work, and even lascivious conduct. These things are not for nothing, and they occur so we may learn from them, as we go into ministration of the word during this harvest season of the orthodox churches.
2. Let us pray. As we go into the word today, in the words of Paul, in Philippians 1:9 – 11, it:
“…is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
May you by insight and discernment of this word, be brought to perfection in all you do, through Christ our Lord. Amen
3. I have been asked to preach at this service on the harvest of perfection, using Philippians 1:1 – 6 and Proverbs 10:3 – 7, I am thus led, in consideration of the Bible readings of the day, including Psalm 26, to focus on Christ as our means to perfection in this life, and indeed the next. Through Him, you will see from a reading of Psalm 8:4 - 8 and Hebrews 1:1 - 4 & 2:5 - 12 that we are made to be perfect, pure and blameless, to have dominion over all things God created, which are good. Life and all its achievements seem to be a Nothingburger save through Christ, the Pioneer of our salvation and Author of our perfection in all things. It appears with the election primaries, the loud complaints of even Mrs Asiha Buhari, our First Lady, on the injustice and fraud in the system, show that if we are not careful, it will harvest Idiocracy this season, if it will not be a vote for a continued Idiocracy in February. It is around these two words, Nothingburger and Idiocracy, their antonyms, and the life of Job, that I build the theme of this sermon in seeking perfection in harvest.
4. I have just come across these new words, learning1 that the Oxford Dictionary of English has added both, and several others, to our accepted usage in English language. • Idiocracy means a society of, or governed by, idiots, or a government of people considered stupid or ignorant. The word took root from a movie of similar title about a country where illiteracy, ignorance, indolence and lack of commercialism are rewarded and thus prevail, resulting in a dystopian society devoid of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, and coherent notions of justice and human rights.2 This well describes a fragile or failed state – a term which experts say typify governance at various levels in Nigeria.
These terms are reflective of many who sow in sin and wickedness; the ignorant who perfects reaping from fields not sown, or fruits of the labours of others; it speaks of the idiot who piles up treasures that rot and rust – the fool who gains his life and loses his soul as Christ said in Mark 8:36,37.
5. It appears both the US President Trump and the Philippine President Duterte fit the description of these two terms, as must be the case with many political, business, society and church leaders – like those who use the courts and trickery to get into episcopal office, or the empty barrels that make most noise amongst us. In giving a glimpse into the type of harvest we get from these ones, a Richard Heydarian said:
“In his legendary “Prison Notebooks,” Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci… In layman terms, he’s warning against losing sight of long-term challenges and wider societal transformation amid contemporary obsession… short-term ephemeral events driven by personalities. Imprisoned by Mussolini, Gramsci never allowed his transient personal suffering as well as bitter partisan spats blind him to the underlying socioeconomic shifts in Italian society and the broader Western world… The problem, however, is that a lot of smart people, including those in the so-called “creative classes” of intellectuals and journalists, tend to ignore Gramsci’s indispensable advice. Across the world, news cycles are largely shaped, dictated and focused on larger-than-life personalities who project an artificial sense of immortality, perfection and potency. In the world of politics, strongmen populists best capture these characteristics. They are the ultimate celebrities, enjoying both power and fame (or notoriety).”
Put in another way, you cannot (a) afford to be ruled by those who appear good but are indeed bad; nor allow your efforts in life to be dictated by contemporary obsession with self-absorption, agonism, greed, atheism, or lies of purveyors of stomach infrastructure. It is about not harvesting in our coming elections those who believe they must be in power forever and hand over to their wives and children or cronies. It is about not being deceived by the Church of untruth that teaches prosperity miracle as evidence of perfection in Christ in the face of the Christian reality of Job: transient personal sufferings that only make for an experience of Jacob, Ruth, David, Job and Esther.
6. These terms speak to the emptiness in a society without a common purpose in Christ; about that person who labours in vain like the politician outmanoeuvred at elections, despite his corrupt spending on an electorate without insight into the things of God. As we look to Advent, the season in preparation for Christ, we must begin to harvest our fields, ready to present what we have gained in life to Christ as He comes. We are told by Hebrews 1:1 that God speaks to us in many and various ways. This He does with Job, and his example I consider in the context of the Bible Passages of today, [Job 1.1; 2:1 - 10; Hebrews 1:1 - 4 & 2:5 - 12 and Mark 10:2-16] – in querying whether you live like Job; or strive to be like Christ? Whether you will give all you have to save your life, or give your life to save a soul or souls? Whether you consider it possible to be blameless like Job? What you consider success and what you deem as perfection? Whether you seek to harvest perfection?
7. Harvest as we all know refers to the end of a season of growing, when fruits or rewards of sowing, planting and nurturing are reaped. It is a term that assumes significant spiritual importance coming at the end of the Ordinary season, during which we are expected to grow ourselves spiritually, and see to the growth of others in Christ. Given that whether we plant or wet, it is only the Lord that grows, as scripted in 1 Corinthians 3:6, we cannot but ascribe anything we do or harvest other than to the love of God and the great grace of His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are all harvesters, whatever we do; nature, itself, being one of cause and effect, and life being of that of investment resulting in eternal life. Thoughts of many and advances in life notwithstanding, all we do can only be carried to completion through Christ.
8. Harvest is about completing what we start and being successful in it. Completion, and by that I mean perfection, can only be through, Christ, who authors and finishes things, according to the will of our Father. This is the message of the Holy Spirit to us today, as it was to the people of Philippi, as recorded by Paul in Philippians 1:1 – 6 thus:
“…to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
This script, along with Bible readings for the day, point to several things worth considering in the scope, activity and footprint we make from day to day – be that as professionals, or otherwise. The biblical instruction is to strive for perfection, and difficult or utopian as that may be, it is one of the reasons for the coming of Christ – so we may know what it is to be perfect before God, and even man!
9. A servant of God, whose life stands to teach us how to harvest perfection, is Job. A bit about him is said, (from the 40 chapters on his life), in our continuous old testament reading of the day Job 1.1 & 2.1 – 10:
“There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
Job’s story appears unreal and indeed the opposite of a Nothingburger, and like Christ the rejected and afflicted who became the Cornerstone. We see in quick succession how affliction besets him with loss of children, health, staff and possessions. A man of integrity, he maintains his fidelity to God, refusing to curse Him rather admitting in humility that we must take the burdens that come with benefits; as we must go through the rigours of planting, tiling, wetting and growth to reap in perfection in Christ.
10. It is the job of the harvester to be like Job, so he or she can be rewarded fully and truly by God Himself, as we read from Job 42:10 – 16. But to get to the perfection one must like him be blameless, that is do all possible to avoid sin. One must fear God by living the true life of a Christian seeking Christian perfection in all ways always. One must live a life of integrity, (unlike we see of these politicians, their mafia-like godfathers, hangers-on, indolent and unfaithful workers, wicked public servants and cheating employers and thieving businessmen), such that God can boast of one. One must always be upright by being right with his or her fellow man. 1 Corinthians 10:13 confirms, as Job showed, that there is no temptation you cannot overcome, so as to be blameless and achieve perfection.
11. This is what the scripture says regarding temptation:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
So, do not be tempted to curse God, abandon faith, or turn to lesser gods, because you have a challenge, suffer a set back or fall into bad times. Do not, as we have seen in the last party primaries, curse your opponent, unnecessarily embarrass them, because of loss you suffer – as we saw with a candidate unethically and in abuse of office disclosing the medical records of others, the same way his predecessor wickedly exposed confidential tax returns of an opponent. Do not be tempted either by allures of the world – as we see with politicians in office who will stop at nothing to succeed themselves. Do not be like our politicians who want their shadows to rest perpetually on power, they too were once given, for these are people that do not honour God, nor respect His command of fairness, equity and opportunity. They fail to be as Christ required in the Gospel reading of the day, Mark 10:2 - 16, to allow the young or those coming after us to grow. Be like Mandela who despite all the powers to remain chose to leave office so others could be his heirs.
12. Be ready to take the burden that comes with any benefit, and by this you ascribe sovereignty to God. Or was Moses not a resident of the palace for 40 years, only to have to flee to the wilderness for the next 40 years as a refugee, but then be called to greatness in his 80th year for 40 years of the most outstanding visionary leadership by man? The burden of success is to build succession, and not to hug power. The burden of leadership is to build a team and work with them in giving hope of perfection built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. That burden is giving the team a common purpose, a drive to excel and an opportunity to do so. The burden of triumph is to absorb losses that may come after it, by leaning on Jesus’ name so when darkness veils the lovely face of Christ from you, His unchanging grace will make you resist the temptation to lose faith. The burden of victory is building a house, is to give of all you have so you may gain your soul perfectly in Christ. In this way you will stand on Christ, the Solid Rock, and be found faultless before the throne of grace, and in the eyes of men, dressed in His righteousness alone – and so may it be for you in Jesus name. Amen.
To harvest perfection, you must always be humble like Job and indeed like Moses, said in Numbers 12:3, to be the humblest man on the face of the earth. That you are not now means nothing, for Moses himself took on humility after a reign of pride, as we read from his books in the Old Testament.
Remember that it is pride that becomes before a fall and this, as we see from the example of Lucifer, (in Isaiah 14:12 – 14), can be fatal and permanent. Pride thus robs a successful person of perfection, for because of the conduct of Moses he was not allowed to get to the Promised Land. By His grace you will get to the Promised Land, Christ completing in you that which God our Father planted in you on conception. For God brought you to life good and perfect to do good things and have dominion over all He created good.
13. So, talking about all things being good and harvesting perfection, I turn to the Epistle reading of the day, Hebrews 1:1 - 4, 2:5 – 12, which says:
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere, ‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honour, subjecting all things under their feet.’ Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’”
While this, essentially, is as to the perfection in Christ through Whom God speaks to us, so is it about the place of you and me in the scheme of things. Just as Christ reflects the glory of God and the exact imprint of His very actuality, so can we be, as the passage ends in telling is that we are siblings of Christ, Who He will single out for praise when we complete the journey of life in the true path of Christian perfection.
14. Quoting from Psalm 8:4 – 6 reference is made to the nature of man: exalted as crown of creation, with dominion over all God created. But is this our reality? Is it not that God created and gave us perfect peace, through belief in His Son, but we see only strife and conflict all over us? Are we not using the wisdom and knowledge God gave us to build for Him and improve the world, to curse and deny Him? Are we not using our intelligence for idiocracy rather than good governance? Are we not using abusing the mercy of God in perfecting our iniquity? Is it not, as exemplified by politicians at primaries that we see the love of power rather than the power of love: or why else will the former Inspector General of Police reign curses on his party leaders because he was rigged out of nomination? Is it not that in place of love we see hatred? Rather than strength in our diversity as human beings we see division, disunity, discrimination and segregation? How can there be any harvest of perfection in such situation?
15. The World is dangerous and disastrous and far from the perfection God seeks in His Kingdom, far from the prayers we make in the Lord’s Super, seeking that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. On our lips today is the type of society we live in, the type of leadership we have, and the challenges we face as a nation. We should be focussed on fulfilling the work of God - which is the peace and happiness that comes from through faith in Christ and a life in Him. The picture of heaven is well painted in Revelations 21 as it is by Genesis 2:8 - 14 from where we know of the Garden of Eden, and that God made all things good and purposed them to be so. We seem for long to have been drawn by the meaning ascribed to the words of the Psalmists in Psalm 51, and inspired writings of our early spiritual fathers on this, that we are all inherently bad and can only strive to be good. The badness of man or his fallen state perhaps drives the shape of the world we see – based on original sin. Although, the view is also held that being born good, to live good, and have control of all things, with freedom of choice between evil and good, all things are good but we continually in falling to temptation, (not being string in Christ), and thus pollute our body otherwise justified by Christ and our soul sanctified by the Holy Spirit, cleansed by a sprinkling of the holy water and the blood if Christ – appropriated by faith and belief in a life lived in Christ.
16. At the just concluded inaugural Pearson Institute Peace Forum,7 the fragility of states was in focus, just as Nigeria was a recurrent decimal in the inhumanity of man to man: the equation of economic inequality multiplied by social injustice added to illegitimacy of levels of authority in the nation. Hence there is much conflict, insecurity and strife in different parts of the country and I dare say all its constituent elements including private enterprise, the Church and you and me. Not just winning the title of poverty capital, Nigeria is now tops in infant mortality in the world, and seem to be racing to be the seat of deception of sin clothed in religiosity. So much is imperfect in Nigeria; so much is far from perfect in the world. There is so much you must do to attain Christian perfection in your calling, your vocation, your profession, your daily life and for the nation. Now is thus the time to review your ways and see what you can harvest as you prepare for a new beginning – be that ushered in by Advent or elections into high office in Nigeria. So, at a time of harvest and one by professionals who seek success and perfection, the aim must be to depart from the norm of fallenness, imperfection, impurity and sin.
17. Talking about norms and fallenness, in the context of harvesting goodness that ripens one into perfection, I draw a parallel again from our immediate experiences in Nigeria party primaries. The norm in Nigeria is that incumbents succeed themselves either by getting back to office, if within constitutional term limits, or planting their clones, proxies or surrogates in office, not even as heir but, as their placeholder. The manoeuvres in Ogun and Lagos States where incumbent governors lost out in the APC party primaries hold many lessons for how to prepare for a true harvest. [Leaving the political elements to masters in that art], we are reminded of Proverbs 10:3 – 7 –
“The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. 4 Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. 5 He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. 6 Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. 7 The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.”
This is a pointer not just to our politicians now jostling for high office, but you and me aiming to succeed in our endeavours and to get things right.
18. From the just concluded party primaries, we see harvests of different kinds: humility and hubris; reality and delusion; love of power and power of love; freedom of truth and bondage of lies; the remembered acts of the righteous and thwarted cravings of the wicked; lazy hands that make for poverty and diligent hands that bring wealth; and the prudent son who gathers crops in summer and the disgraceful son who sleeps during harvest. Yours must not be a harvest of Nothingburger – a plucked ripe fruit which is rotten inside. Yours must not be a life of idiocracy – being a stupid citizen or one treated as an idiot, or allowing yourself to be ruled by men of no substance, idiots, fools, wicked and stupid people who think they can cheat God, nature or their fellow men. Rather, with child-like faith accept Christ, and aim to be worthy, acting with humility and integrity at all times like Job.
19. Speaking of child-like faith, the Gospel reading of day, Mark 10:2 - 16 comes into play. Picking on its latter part which shows the Christ’s love of children and they being exemplars of who can be perfect, we know that there must be no discrimination in spite of the hierarchy of people in society, nor on the basis of gender or age. More important is youth, the young ones that will make up tomorrow and build where those of today retire. This is about continuity and institution building of men and units of society that will ensure perfection in the affairs of men. The ‘kingdom of God belongs’ to those of tomorrow: the young of today (in terms of age, or wealth, or power, or office, or spiritual development, or knowledge or physical skills or strength). So the elder, or older, one in these things, especially wealth and power, must know that to attain perfection, as mentioned earlier, way must be made for those behind. Being a child is not only about biological age, it is about infancy in anything and all efforts must be made to build up the nursery especially of the Church.
20. This is what Philippians 1:1 – 6 speaks to: partnership in the Gospel. Children are the future of the Church, and as a good harvester for Christ, you must grow these children and from them get the reward of more souls won. You must be like children to be accepted into God’s Kingdom, by being plain and opening minded in your dealings with others. You must have child-like faith to attain the glory of paradise – for that is the ultimate perfection you can get. You must bring joy to servants of God anytime your name is mentioned on account of the excelling things in Christ you do. You must see Christ in all you do, and let Christ be seen in all you do, for Hebrews 2:9 says that it is through Christ, and Him only, that we are able to see the perfection God desires for us, and, I say, attain it.
21. In the ordinary season of planting, and at the time of harvest, you must be able to meet the test of the Psalm of the day, Psalm 26 which, amongst other things, so when your heart and mind are examined, and you are tested, you will be vindicated by God Himself. Live a blameless life as much as you can, living in full reliance on the faithfulness of the Almighty. Do not dwell with deceitful people or evildoers. Refuse to be in the company of corrupt ones and those who lack integrity. Let your hands be clean, by having no hand in anything that appears expedient to that immediate need if it is unlawful in the eyes of men, and more so God. Be found always on solid ground that is itself founded on Christ the Solid Rock.
22. I end with the prayerful words of a perfect harvest by William Henry Gill:
Hear us, O Lord, from Heaven Thy dwelling place: like them of old, in vain we toil all night, unless with us Thou go, who art the Light. Come then, O Lord, that we may see Thy face… Our wives and children we commend to Thee: for them we plough the land and plough the deep; for them by day the golden corn we reap, by night the silver harvest of the sea… O Bread of Life, Thou in Thy Word hast said, Who feeds in faith on Me shall never die! In mercy hear Thy hungry children’s cry — Father, give us this day our daily bread! Sow in our hearts the seeds of Thy dear love, that we may reap contentment, joy, and peace; and when at last our earthly labors cease, grant us to join Thy harvest home above. Amen.” 8
The word can come at no better time than now as we go through election primaries and party conventions in readiness for ploughing the political field for yield of a government that will bring us blameless men of integrity like Job who will work towards the kingdom of God on earth.
23. Let us pray. May you, like Christ, be a reflection of God’s glory in all you do; may you be the exact imprint of God’s very being, and be sustained in all things by Christ, God’s powerful Word; may you harvest more excellent things than before and may God be mindful of your harvest, so you may be crowned with glory and honour; may you because of the suffering of death of Jesus Christ be made perfect in Him. Amen.9
†A hymn by William Walsham How –MHB 923 (al verses save the third). See http://lutheran-hymnal.com/lyrics/tlh441.htm