Sunday, December 9, 2018

Trusting in God's promises (Luke 3:1-6)


Luke 3:1-6

It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level. The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth. And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.’”


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God follows through with God’s promises in love for God’s creatures.

Here are some of God’s promises relating to Jesus’ life and ministry:

Matthew chapter 1 verse 23; that the virgin would conceive a child; this was a message from God through the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz of Israel from Isaiah 7:14 that is then acknowledged as fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus.

God follows through with God’s promises in love for God’s creatures.

Then we have a scripture originally penned by Micah, one of the minor prophets in the Bible bearing witness to God’s promise that a ruler who would be a shepherd to the people would emerge from Bethlehem, which of course, is the place of the birth of Jesus Christ.

God follows through with God’s promises in love for God’s creatures.

In the Gospel according to Luke, God promises a child for Mary and for Elizabeth; each up against what should have been significant impediments to getting pregnant; Elizabeth because of her old age, and Mary…for obvious reasons.

God follows through with God’s promises in love for God’s creatures.

Then we have today’s scripture reading concerning the ministry of John the Baptist which incudes one of God’s promises through the prophet Isaiah: 

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! 4Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. 5Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!” (Is. 40:3-5)

In this text from Isaiah God promises to send a messenger to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the saving one of God. God sent John the Baptist.

God follows through with God’s promises in love for God’s creatures.

Then there is a promise of justice that is made through chapter 61 of the prophet Isaiah which is clearly being fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. It is also acknowledged in the Gospel according to Luke as the scripture that Jesus reads to kick off his ministry, as if to affirm that this is God’s promise that is to be fulfilled through him. It goes like this:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. 2He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

This scripture finds its fulfillment in the healing miracles of Jesus.

God follows through with God’s promises in love for God’s creatures.

As we read the stories in the Bible we see that if God makes a promise, God makes it happen.

A child, a ruler from Bethlehem, a messenger to prepare the way for him, good news for the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. God’s track record for following through with the promises listed in the Bible is impeccable! God has been faithful to fulfill these promises we’ve already acknowledged.

But then what about this one from chapter 65 of the prophet Isaiah:

 “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore. 18Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy. 19I will rejoice over Jerusalem and delight in my people. And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more. (Is 65:17-19)

This should sound familiar to those who have studied the book of Revelation; as Revelation chapter 21:1-4 reads:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.a 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

It seems the writer of the Book of Revelation knew about and wanted to remind his readers of this promise that God had made through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years prior.

God is faithful to fulfill God’s promises in love for God’s creatures.

But wait, the last time I checked there is still a lot of weeping and crying that happens in the world, and there is still a lot of death, sorrow, crying, and pain. 

Has God fallen short on God’s promise?

Or, is this a promise that is yet to be fulfilled?

Looking at God’s track record, God promised to send someone who would save us all from the brokenness of sin and death. God sent Jesus Christ.
Do you trust in the power of God’s love? This is an important question to consider during this Advent season. 

Considering the evidence in the Bible. Considering what Christian tradition teaches. Considering your life experiences and the life experiences of others. Considering any number of disciplines including science to philosophy, psychology, and anthropology among others.

Considering all of the evidence, and considering the hope that we are in need of…

Do you trust in the power of God’s love? 

Do you believe that God can be trusted to remain faithful to fulfill God’s promises in love for God’s creatures?

While we wait for the day that we all are surely longing for, when there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain; when there will be no more people living without the basic necessities of life; when church and even national security measures will become obsolete because no one will live in fear but rather love will be the force that makes peace on earth a tangible reality rather than a song that we sing with hopeful longing.

Do you trust in the power of God’s love?

Do you believe that just as God was faithful to fulfill God’s promises pertaining to Jesus’ birth and ministry that God will be faithful to fulfill this ultimate promise of peace on earth?

While we wait, we long for justice…while we wait, we long for love…while we wait, we have already come to know the joy of being known and loved by God…

…while we wait, we trust, we pray.

We trust, believing that Jesus Christ, the world’s ultimate source of peace, justice, and love will come to us at the end of all things and that Jesus Christ will come to each of us today, perhaps in the face of another.

Trusting in God’s promises I’d like to bring this sermon to a close with a reading from the second to last verse in the Bible. From Revelation chapter 22:20:

Jesus, who is God’s faithful witness says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

To Him who is faithful to fulfill God’s promises in love for God’s creatures we may respond, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Active Hope (Luke 21:25-36)


Luke 21:25-36

There will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. 26People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 27Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. 28So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

29Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. 30When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. 31In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. 32I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. 

33Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
34“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, 35like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. 36Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”


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To those who read the Gospel According to Luke from beginning to end often get a little tripped up by chapter 21 because we go straight from the story of the widows offering into what has been called the Little Apocalypse, and then what follows is Judas agreeing to betray Jesus and the Last Supper discourse.

The insertion of the Little Apocalypse is jolting to readers and perhaps it is meant to be.

Think about this; if we were to experience strange signs in the sky and earthquakes among other natural disasters on such a scale that the whole world will know about it, we would feel more than a little jolted and shaken up by the experience for sure.

And there is also one particular line in this text that many may find troubling, as in verse 32 Jesus is quoted as saying “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place.”

It seems that the author of the Gospel According to Luke, and perhaps Jesus himself, thought that the fullness of the Kingdom of God would come upon the earth very shortly after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Here we are roughly 2000 years later. We are still waiting for the Kingdom of God to arrive in its fullness. Corruption, violence, death, and sin continue to have devastating effects on the world. 

Was Jesus wrong about this? What are we to do about this Little Apocalypse that’s nestled within the pages of not one but three of the Gospel Accounts? The others are Mark chapter 13 and Matthew chapter 24.

However, Jesus also is quoted as saying in Mark and Matthew that “No one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36)

Perhaps we should not get too caught up on Luke and Jesus misinterpreting the timeframe and we should focus more on the truth that is being conveyed through these words that are attributed to Jesus.

At the core of this “Little Apocalypse,” this scripture provides “encouragement for the faithful when the very foundation of life seems to be shaken.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9. Abingdon Press; Nashville, TN 1995. Pg. 411)
 
In this way it is a message not just for the end of time but for every moment in time from now until the day when the Kingdom of God does arrive in its fullness.

As we, the Church, are a people of hope who are always eagerly anticipating the day when Jesus Christ will return with great power and glory; As we hope for the day when the love, peace, and justice of God will prevail throughout all creation; there is a hopeful acknowledgment that we need the power of God’s love to find expression in the here and now as well as at the end of it all.

How many times have you felt that the foundation of your life has been shaken? If you are like most people, probably more times than you can count!

The truth is that we all need something to keep us grounded when that which seemed stable and secure turns out to be unreliable, shifting, or even dangerous.

We all know of people who have been affected by recent flooding in the eastern part of our country and by wildfires in the western part. Many people are either still in the thick of it or in a place where they are recovering with a long road ahead.

When these natural disasters strike, whatever sense of stability was once provided by homes and other building structures becomes like a small stone caught up in a big river. There is no safety and security to be found there anymore.

There is a message of hope for every moment which is conveyed here, that “in the worst of times the Son of Man (that’s Jesus Christ) is near at hand, coming with “power and great glory.”” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9. Abingdon Press; Nashville, TN 1995. Pg. 411)

Jesus Christ is our source of hope yesterday, today, and forever. The power of God’s love in Jesus is our strength in times of trouble.

How then does this hope inform our response when the world around us is shaken?

We read in the text, “Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

To allow our hearts to be dulled is to allow our lives to be informed by the comforts of this life. That’s not to say that the comforts and pleasures of this life are bad or evil in and of themselves; but to stay alert and to always be ready for the coming of Jesus Christ is not to allow the pleasures of life to be our aim and direction, but to allow the greatest commandment that we receive from Jesus to be the aim and direction for our lives.

The greatest commandment is this, that we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and that we should love others as ourselves. This comes from Mark 12:29-31.

And here is where this message of hope of Jesus Christ entering the world and our lives with great power and glory has the strongest impact; in acknowledging that we should be vigilant in keeping watch not just for the moment when our lives will end but for every moment of our lives in which we may discover Jesus in the face of another human being.

Surely Jesus arrived with great power and glory to those who were recently affected by wildfires and floods through the efforts of rescue workers and others who stepped up to help.

Jesus may come to us with great power and glory in another’s need, or as another meets our need.

Jesus may come to us with great power and glory in peace that is established between us and our neighbors or in simple acts of kindness and care as we value each other, every human being, and all that has life, as creatures who are loved by God.

So let us rest in confident hope that death as well as all forms of evil will one day be overcome by the power of God’s love when Jesus Christ returns with great power and glory…

And let us remain vigilant in allowing our lives to be informed and guided by God’s love for us, by loving God with all of our faculties, and by loving others as ourselves. As we remain vigilant in allowing our lives to be grounded in God’s unshakable love, let us resolve to keep watch for every moment in which Jesus Christ may come before us with power and great glory in love that is shared during this Advent season.