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Peace of Christ November 29, 2015

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Isaiah 40:1-2

Advent 1

November 29, 2015

 

Focus:  God gives us comfort and joy in the Messiah.

Function:  That the hearers cast their anxieties on Christ.

Structure:  Pre-written Sermon Series, “Comfort and Joy” by Tim Klinkenberg, Drew Gerdes, and Michael Hoy via Creative Communications.

 

Peace of Christ

            The text for our message today is from Isaiah 40:1-2: ”Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

Thanksgiving is over.  And now you find yourselves trying to figure out how many different meals you can plan from turkey leftovers, and just how long you can keep your house smelling like pumpkin pie.  Most of us have packed up the Thanksgiving decorations and shoved them back into storage.  And now, we move into the season of Advent.  Or more accurately, we leapfrog right over Advent and celebrate Christmas! Christmas? Christmas! Are you ready for Christmas? Have you started making a list? Because it’s way too early to be checking it twice!

Advent is meant to give us time to prepare for Christmas.  To prepare our hearts and minds, to set them on the coming of Christ.  To give us the time to explore, through the Scriptures, the profound comfort and joy that God promised in the Messiah and delivers in His Son Jesus laid in a manger and the end of this earth and the return of our Lord. As we explore these thoughts in the four weeks of Advent, our theme this year will be “Comfort and Joy.” In the weeks ahead we will look at the Peace of Christ, the Pardon of Christ, the Presence of Christ and the Power of Christ. Each of these will help lead us to Christmas with renewed hearts and with a great sense of what our Lord is doing in the world.

Isaiah’s words of peace and comfort in these two verses are the basis for our theme today. Isaiah’s words are spoken to a community that was struggling with violence and insecurity. Life for the people of Israel, for the people of God, seemed out of control. There was no Internet, no 24-hour news, no Twitter feeds. For all they knew the next person coming over the hill would be a commander with his army in tow seeking to destroy them. Their country had become a second-rate world power and the people were anxious.

We on the other hand get nervous because we have so much information. We are bombarded with information. A jetliner disappears off a radar screen and we have 24-hour coverage for weeks after the incident. Russia moves into the Ukraine and not only do we have newspaper stories, but we have video coverage, audio, and people giving their reports on the ground to family via smartphones.

So much information drives anxiety.  We call this “information overload.”  Constantly checking our phones, our Facebook newsfeed, whatever we can.  We want to know about something the instant it happens.  It’s an addiction, and left unchecked, it leads to uncontrollable anxiety.

The way we prepare for Christmas also builds on our anxiety. We do make lists, some on paper and many more in our minds. We have so many tasks that need to be accomplished over the next month. Gifts need to be figured out, purchased, and paid for. Cards need to be dreamed up, ordered, addressed and sent. Christmas Day dinner needs a menu, then shopping, then preparation, then serving. And enjoying the day? Maybe, if there’s time for that.

And even before the year ends, our minds are racing, wondering where we’re going and what might happen in the year ahead. While there may not be an army at our gates, there is an army of people that needs what we have. Shopping, organizing, baking, cleaning and all the tasks of the season are done with a clock running and the clock will reach zero on Christmas Day.

The Lord speaks to anxious people at an anxious time. He comes with words of comfort. He comes with words that herald God’s engagement in our anxiety. He comes with a word that the future will be peaceful. Peace begins not with the stuff that we have to do, but with God’s plan for you and me. The peace plan rumbles through the Garden of Eden, is sustained by faithful Noah, is affirmed in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and is brought into the world through Mary. God brings peace in the presence of Jesus, His Son and our Lord.

Jesus comes to work at the root of our anxiety, He’s not just some Band-Aid to mask the symptoms. He comes to our soul and connects us to God our Father in heaven. The words of Isaiah find reality in Jesus. Jesus came to pay double for our sins. He brings us peace with God. Jesus’ peace isn’t merely the absence of anxiety, but peace that comes from God with us, from God living with us in life and death. He brings us peace! Christmas is a celebration of God’s peace for us. And we anticipate a new year full of God’s peace.

Our anxiety, along with the fear that drives it, are replaced with confidence in Christ and hope for the future. God has worked, is working, and will work in our lives and there’s no reason to believe He will quit. Indeed, there is every reason to believe and trust that He will keep on working in our lives.

For many of us, this season is filled with traditions. Some of us have a manger scene that we unpack, albeit way too early, and put up in a prominent place in our homes. Typically the scene has all the right pieces: a stable or a cave or whatever, cows, sheep, Mary and Joseph and maybe a few Magi are part of the scene also. But the central character, the most prominent piece is perhaps the smallest. It’s the piece many of us put in the scene last, but it’s clearly the most important piece. Without that little piece, the rest of the scene is useless. With that little piece the scene finds meaning for you and all who see it. That little piece in the center of the scene, lying in a manger, is your peace. It’s Jesus, who was wrapped in cloth and laid in a manger. He is God’s answer to anxiety and worry. He is God’s remedy to fear. He is your Savior from sin and death.  Jesus is the center not only of that scene, but of yours. He comes to live with you and in you. He comes to be the center of the season. He comes to be our peace. Amen.

 

Waiting in Faith November 22, 2015

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Jude 20-25

Proper 29

November 22, 2015

 

Focus:  God will send His Son again.

Function:  That the hearers build up their faith as they wait.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Waiting in Faith

 

The nine months of waiting from conception to birth can be overwhelming, the emotions, the excitement.  Children waiting for Christmas morning, for the fun of shredding through the pile of wrapping paper.  Counting down the days to a retirement celebration.  Waiting in line for that big screen TV in the cold on Thanksgiving evening, or standing in the line at Fareway behind the customer that insists on digging through their bag to find exact change.

It’s the waiting game.  Sometimes the wait is worth every moment, like the look on your grandchild’s face after a long car trip to come see grandma and grandpa.  And other times it only brings suffering, like the test results from a recent doctor visit.

Waiting is something we’re very familiar with.  We know it, we expect it, and sometimes we’re even patient enough for it.  And as we’ve come to the end of the church year this weekend, we recognize the annual tradition.  Today we focus on the second coming of Jesus Christ as we wait for His return.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things that it makes sense.  It’s the end of the year, it’s the end of the calendar.  Christ’s return is the end of the world as we know it.  So I suppose it’s fitting.

And yet, are we really still waiting?  The Jews waited for nearly 4000 years for their Messiah.  And for those who recognized the Christ, we now call them Christians.  But there are Jews still today who deny that Jesus is the Christ.  Some of these Jews are still waiting, still waiting for their xysm, their Messiah, the Cristoj, the Christ.  They still celebrate the Passover, leaving an empty chair in case he comes to fill it.  Other Jews however, have turned the whole thing into a metaphor.  They no longer expect one to come to deliver them.  They’ve given up on waiting.

Paul wrestled with this in his ministry.  He had the privilege of announcing to many different cultures that Christ our King is indeed coming back for us again.  And He’s coming soon!  Some people heard this and gave up working.  Christ is coming soon, we don’t have to work anymore or prepare for tomorrow.  He’ll come back.

Some Christians have reacted like the Jews.  It’s been so long.  It’s been two thousand years…is He really coming back?  Maybe it’s just a metaphor for when we die, then He’ll take us to be with Him.  The 6th graders asked me this.  They didn’t know.  He’s really coming back?  Yeah, yeah, He is!  He promised.

Christ died on the cross and rose again from the tomb for a reason, for a purpose.  He lived that we might live.  He rose, that we might be with Him.  And He has promised, He has given His word that He will return, and that when He does, He will take us to Paradise, where we will live with Him forevermore.

Christ Himself gave us many of the texts that we use this day.  We could look to any of the gospels, we could hear Christ compare the last day to a thief in the night, or a master returning from a journey.  He gives numerous examples.  And we’ve talked about them before, and unless He returns first, we will talk about them again.

So instead today, I wanted to look at a book we often forget.  It’s only one chapter, the little epistle of Jude.  While we aren’t positive, many believe that Jude, like James, is a half-brother of Jesus.  And his short, little letter is pretty straightforward.  He’s warning us to watch out for false teachers and he’s giving us encouragement in our faith.

Our selection for today is short, but deep.  There’s so much that can be said, so much we could learn from just this paragraph:

20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

 

It’s entirely about this time of waiting.  What do we do while we wait?  And it’s not to behave like the Thessalonians thinking we can just stop working and kick up our feet.  But it’s also not like the Jews, thinking He’s never coming at all.

Christ will return, of that we can rest assured.  So what are we to do while we wait?  And the answer from Jude is threefold: build up your faith, remain in God’s love, and snatch others from the fire.

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit.”  This is the lost art of discipleship.  I’m not sure we really know what it looks like anymore.  If we watch Jesus disciple the twelve, discipleship is sitting at someone’s feet and learning from them.  It’s taking the time to listen, to learn, to grow.  To take in, to ask difficult questions, to serve together, to see the life lived out.

Each and every one of us should have someone under whom we’re learning and growing in our faith.  That’s good and needed.  But we also should be sitting at the same feet the twelve did.  Taking the time to listen and to learn from Christ Himself in prayer and through the Word.

We recently had a comment on our website about how helpful the Faith at Home Corner is, that there are ideas for sitting at God’s feet, learning from Him, growing in your relationship with Him.  But they also remarked about the devotion and activity and how even though they don’t have any little kids, it was still a great lesson for them.  A chance to gather with other family, friends, or neighbors, to talk about God, and to put faith into action.

This week’s activity has two ideas.  Do a prayer walk in your neighborhood, simply ask your neighbors what you can pray about for them.  It builds relationships, and prayer works!  The second idea is that when you think of giving Christmas cards or gifts to neighbors this year, just slip in a little piece of paper that has our church’s Christmas worship times on it, inviting them to come along.

This all gets into the second point, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to everlasting life.”  Again, Jude’s letter warns about false teachers, that we need to avoid them.  See the first step, of growing in our faith and being discipled, helps us to recognize false teachers and to call them out on it.

But false teachers aren’t just people, they’re also things, they’re our hearts, our old sinful self, our busyness that gets in the way of us being discipled.  All too often we worship stuff and things.  The need to play every sport or instrument under the sun is a false god.  The need to say yes to every little thing asked of you is a false god.  The need to live beyond your means or to have just a little more is a false god.  These things prevent us from sitting at His feet, from listening, from learning.

And then lastly, Jude instructs us to “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”  To our brothers and sisters who are struggling, we are to have mercy.  That means taking the time to spend with them, to listen to their hurts, their doubts, and to walk together with them, pointing them again to the cross.  Taking the time to disciple them.

To those who are under the influence of false teachers, snatch them out of the fire.  When Christ returns, that’s that.  That’s the end.  It’s like “game over.”  There are no more chances.  When we recognize this, that those who have no relationship with Jesus Christ will be going to hell, having mercy on them changes everything.  It changes the way we look at life.  If Christ is going to come back this evening, what am I going to do with my afternoon?  If He’s coming back on Thanksgiving, what am I going to do with my week?  It gives us urgency to share the good news, to indeed snatch others from the fires of hell.

And then Jude concludes, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

That’s what we’re waiting for.  For the Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ, who alone is capable of washing away our sins and presenting us before the Holy Judge as perfect and blameless, we’re waiting for Him to return in all of His glory.  We’re waiting for Him to come back for us and to take us to be with Him in the Paradise He is preparing for us.  It will be beautiful beyond description.

The Church Triumphant November 1, 2015

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Revelation 7:9-17

All Saints’ Day

November 1, 2015

 

Focus:  God saves His people.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice with the church triumphant.

Structure:  .

 

The Church Triumphant

 

Today I want to look at the book we talk so little about.  The book we want to talk about the most.  Revelation.  For a letter that can be summed up in the two simple words “God wins,” it definitely has its twists and turns.  It’s darkness and light.  Pain and glory.  Suffering and joy.

And there would be no one who knows that better than John.  Revelation is just that: a revelation.  God revealed this vision of the end of the world to His child, to our brother John.  And John recorded it for us.

We often avoid talking about Revelation for a number a reasons.  It’s hard to talk about because it’s unfulfilled prophecy.  The prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, those are easy, we saw them fulfilled in Christ.  We can use them to talk about our Savior.  But what do we do with these prophecies that haven’t been fulfilled?  That we’re still waiting for?  In fact, that have caused so much confusion, many Christians don’t even agree on what they’re talking about.

We avoid Revelation because in some ways, the early church did.  That’s not to say they didn’t like it or that they buried it away.  Quite the contrary, but it wasn’t used as often the gospels or Paul’s letters.

And then sometimes we avoid it because it’s just plain dark.  Apocalypse?  Death?  A great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns?  The two beasts?  Seals and trumpets and the very battles of war.

It’s not the easiest stuff to talk about.  But it’s in this context that we find our text for today.  John has a vision of the seven-sealed scroll.  As the seals were broken one by one, John saw a rider on a white horse with a bow and a crown riding forth to conquer.  A red horse whose rider would take peace from the earth, leaving many to be slaughtered with the sword.  A third, a black horse, with a weighing scale in hand.  The fourth a ghostly green horse with death as its rider, bringing the graves of famine and sword and wild beasts.  The four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The fifth seal brought about the cries of those who have been martyred, killed for their faith.  The sixth saw an earthquake, a blood moon, a sun doused in blackness, the stars falling to the earth, the mountains and islands moving as the heavens are ripped open.

But then there’s a pause.  There’s an interlude, a break from these seals. A break from all this darkness.  And John is shown two more things, two very beautiful things.  Two things that bring comfort, comfort to him, comfort to us.  The first comes before our text, at the start of chapter 7.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

 

These are the people of God.  Marked by God.  Sealed by God.  It’s not the first time the tribes of Israel were sealed.  There’s a connection here to the Passover, where the angel of God waited for the Israelites to be sealed, a mark of blood on their doorposts.  And when the angel saw that mark, he spared them, he moved on.  Saved by the blood of the lamb.  By the mark of God.

But it’s not past tense.  These 144,000 are the people of God.  Israel is no longer a physical nation.  It’s a people, it’s the church.  That’s an entirely different sermon.  But we are the 144,000.  It’s a number of numbers.  A number of completion.  Twelve squared, the number of tribes, the number of the disciples of Christ.  Twelve squared times ten cubed.  Ten, roundness, perfection, three times the number of the Trinity.  Revelation does a lot with numbers.  Again, a different sermon.

It is enough today simply to know that you are the people of Revelation chapter 7.  You are the church militant as it is often called.  The military, the army of God.  His people, created for a purpose, with things to do, with a war to be fought.  For as long as we live, we are a part of the church militant, the church here on earth.

And then there’s our text for the day.  Part two of this interlude.  Part two of this vision of comfort.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 

John is given a vision of a people too numerous to count gathered around the throne of God, rejoicing, celebrating, worshipping the Lord.  They’re clothed in white, like the martyrs, like the angels.  They’re holding palm branches in their hands just like the men and women who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem.  And they’re shouting out and they’re proclaiming: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  And as they did, the angels shout amen, in loud agreement.

As John talks to one of the elders of heaven, he learns who these people are.  “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  They are the church triumphant.  They are the men and women who have gone before us.  The saints who have passed on the faith to us.  These are the people of God who were once part of the church militant, part of His kingdom on this earth.

That time has come and gone.  They’ve fought the good fight as Paul likes to say.  They’ve won the race.   They’ve lived, they’ve loved, but most of all, God has loved them.  Henry, Phyllis, Marilyn, Betty, Doris, Clarissa, Jeanette, Clarence, Harley, Arlyss, and the rest of the multitudes of heaven.  Loved by God.

Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

Peace.  Beauty.  Tranquility.  A wonderful picture of rest, of joy, and of love.

We’ve already mentioned the Passover, the mark, the seal that was the blood of the Lamb.  It is that same mark that is upon us.  The blood of the Lamb, the blood of Christ, who in the midst of a Passover celebration, willingly sacrificed Himself, poured out His blood to mark us, to seal us with the very salvation of God.

God saved us.  God saved the church triumphant.  God will save the church militant.  Life with Him in Paradise is the great reward.  It is the hope that we look forward to, the joy of our homes.  But yet the work is not done, not for the church militant.  We are not yet the church triumphant.  We will someday join them in their rest.  But in the meantime we fight.  Not literally with sword and bullets, but with the sword of the Spirit, the very Word of God.

For as long as we remain on this earth, we preach the good news of a Lamb whose blood can wash away even the worst of stains.  We take up our medic bags, the very forgiveness and comfort given to us by God Himself, and we bandage and stitch up those whom the dragon has torn and battered and bruised.  He devours his own.  But the God of Israel is even willing to die in the place of His enemy.

It is really a beautiful letter with glimpses of judgment and wrath, but also of joy and salvation.  Revelation is packed with some pretty powerful stuff.  We’ll talk about it again someday, but for today, it is enough to know that we are the church militant, that we join together with the church triumphant, with the saints who have gone before, we join with them in rejoicing, in praising the Lord and the Lamb for their good gifts to us.  And while we wait in the certain hope of joining them in Paradise, we live on, we fight on, we march on.