I find the Old Testament interesting because Cyrus, a Persian king, is the bloke that took on, and defeated, Babylon and brought about the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem and yet his victory, something that bring military might and political will together, makes him an instrument for God. Mind you, much like those who suffer under the hands of the Islamic State today, I get the impression that the interference, and presence, of foreign powers in their fortune is only just a little less welcome that the presence of those who oppress them!
The very act of asking, or assuming, God's blessing upon those whom might otherwise be regarded as 'the enemy' is a tough task indeed and yet here we have Cyrus appearing to be 'God's servant'. How cool is that that God can use those who are far off, those who have no knowledge or relationship with Him, to bring about that which is a blessing for His people!
The reading gives us a few indications as to the reason for Cyrus' place in the history of the Jews - here's a couple of them:
i - God is calling, and using, him to make real the promise that Israel would be redeemed,
ii - God is doing it to get Cyrus to realise who He (God) is and how (and there's also a what concerning the way) the relationship with His people works.
Combine this with the people in Thessalonica who were far off and worshipped idols but were then filled with God's Holy Spirit and became imitators of Paul and his gang and, more importantly imitators of Jesus, the Christ. Here we have people who were used but we used as people with a relationship rather than merely as the means to an end. God can use those who are close and those who are far off to do the stuff He needs to get done- which one of these are we I wonder?
Add to the mix the Gospel reading where people are trying to trip Jesus up regarding the payment of taxes - where we end up with one very simple question is simple:
Who are you going to serve - What rules your life: God or man?
If it's going to be the things of this world (which fall to moth, rust and thieves) then that's fair enough - crack on and enjoy life to the full (because at least you can be happy running after the things that fall apart, stop working and get nicked!).
If you're going to choose to follow Jesus then be aware that taking up a cross can damage your health and following Jesus and denying yourself can lead to a loss of friendship and results in people opposing you and trying to trip you up at each and every turn (Have you read what happened to Jesus during His earthly ministry?)
It's a simple choice really! But make the right one and God will come to the rescue using the most unlikely people and by means of the most amazing situations and you'll indeed be able to sing His praises because He is, indeed, wonderful and holy.
Would that I was at least a bit like Him in being holy ;-).
Would that we run the race and come through to the end as a people tried, tested and approved,
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us your gift of faith that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to that which is before, we may run the way of your commandments and win the crown of everlasting joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Father help us to have the knowledge to choose rightly the things on offer to us that we might pass up the offer of those things that fall apart and turn to rust for the eternal verities of life.
Use us in the places and in the times when the need is made real,
Send us out to minister you Grace and to show your friendship
And help us in our daily struggle to endure burdens and to overcome those who would wound us.
This we ask in your mighty and most wonderful name. Amen.
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.
The Lord is king: let the peoples tremble; he is enthroned above the cherubim: let the earth shake.
The Lord is great in Zion and high above all peoples. Let them praise your name, which is great and awesome; the Lord our God is holy. Mighty king, who loves justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God; bow down before his footstool, for he is holy. Moses and Aaron among his priests and Samuel among those who call upon his name; they called upon the Lord and he answered them. He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; they kept his testimonies and the law that he gave them. You answered them, O Lord our God; you were a God who forgave them and pardoned them for their offences.
Exalt the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill, for the Lord our God is holy.
1 Thessalonians 1.1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Post Communion Prayer
We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast: for here we receive you, here the memory of your passion is renewed, here our minds are filled with grace, and here a pledge of future glory is given, when we shall feast at that table where you reign with all your saints for ever. Amen.