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Up, Up, and Away! May 5, 2016

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Acts 1:1-11

Ascension Thursday

May 5, 2016

 

Focus:  God is expanding His kingdom.

Function:  That the hearers serve their neighbors in love while awaiting Christ’s Second Coming.

Structure:  Walkthrough the text.

 

Up, Up, and Away

 

For the last month or so now, we’ve really dug into the Scripture texts during the sermon.  It’s fun, it’s a good way to pour through God’s Word.  And as summer approaches, it’s just nice to have this chance for extra Bible study, to continue to drum up your interest in God’s Word.  It’s not an all the time preaching style, but it’s helpful.

So we continue that way tonight, as we celebrate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven.  If you’d like to follow along either in the Bible or in your bulletin, we’ll be walking straight through our reading from Acts chapter one.

  1. In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

 

What other book of the New Testament was written to Theophilus?  The book of Luke, the gospel according to Luke.  For our purposes, it really doesn’t matter who Theophilus is.  Many simply think it’s the patron of Luke’s writing, the man perhaps funding Luke to do this research and compose these works.  Others, however, have simply thought it was a play on words in Greek, as the name means “lover of God.”  So Luke might be writing this to all people who love God.  I lean toward it being an actual person, but really it’s just something neat to think about.

Either way, this is a sequel.  Officially titled, “Acts of the Apostles,” this is Luke 2.  Or 2 Luke, or whatever you want to call it.  It’s a continuation.  Luke is about the ministry of Christ for the church.  Acts is about the Holy Spirit at work through the church.  And they fit right together.  It’s like when you watch your favorite TV show, it ends on cliffhanger, and then the next week’s episode starts by recapping last week.

Luke ends with the ascension.  Acts begins with the ascension.  Unfortunately, our English publishers like to put John in between.  Luke and Acts, take them together.

  1. until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

 

So again, Luke was about all Christ did, and that included the instructions for what the disciples were to keep doing after Christ left them.  And so that’s where we’re picking up, going back to those instructions.

  1. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

 

Sometimes we get the idea that faith is just separate from reality.  Like we can compartmentalize it.  It’s spiritual, we can’t really know, so you just gotta have faith.  I can’t answer your questions, but just believe in Jesus.  The New Testament doesn’t really talk that way.  Here we have concrete proof to the disciples.  Christ rose from the dead, appeared to them, did miracles before them, and continued to teach them.  This matters.  And it’s the same way the disciples will turn around and share the gospel.  They will give proofs of the resurrection as they witness to others about Christ.

And while we can’t say we are eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, well, we actually kind of can in the Lord’s Supper, but that’s not as convincing to a non-believer.  We do still have evidence, and some pretty good ones at that.  We can prove Jesus lived.  We can prove that the things the New Testament records are actually what He said.  We can’t prove correct, that’s where faith will come in, but there’s a lot of good, and helpful, stuff available.  That’s what Sunday Bible class downstairs has talked about, and if you ever want to know more, just ask.

Jesus appears to them over 40 days and continues to teach.

  1. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

 

We can only imagine what the disciples might have been thinking when Jesus started to say this.  But, why is this odd?  Why would Jesus have to tell the disciples not to leave Jerusalem?  Well, they had just crucified Jesus.  They had just killed the Christ.  The disciples are now locking themselves away in a house hiding for fear that the Jews will kill them, too.  We can only imagine that they were thinking, plotting how they might escape, where they might go next.  Where on earth might be safe for them.

But Jesus tells them to stay.  Remain here.  Remain in Jerusalem in the very midst of the people who seek to take your life.  This is another spot where we misinterpret our New Testament.  Much of American Christianity today is about happiness and comfort.  We think of God’s blessings to us as material things, that if we just are faithful enough, if we just give enough, God will pour out material blessings on us.  And bad things won’t happen to you.

We live in a culture that’s about being comfortable, enjoying life.  And I’ve had to warn the confirmation students about this.  If you’re comfortable in life, if there’s nothing causing you trouble in any way, you’re probably not doing what God has called you to do.  Because the New Testament promises that “all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12).

That’s what Jesus is calling the disciples to do, to give up their concern about themselves and this worldly life, to forsake this life for the sake of the kingdom.  Remain in Jerusalem, remain here until the Father gives you the gift you’ve been promised.

  1. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

 

This is the gift, the Holy Spirit being poured out from heaven onto these disciples.  It’s the day we call Pentecost, it’s the day the Church on earth is truly born.  And we’ll talk more about that in a week and a half when we celebrate Pentecost.

  1. So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

As pastors, we teach.  And Jesus’ patience with His disciples is truly incredible.  I run out of patience every week in confirmation.  But not here.  I need to learn from this.  For three years, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God, and they still don’t get it.  They just don’t.  They still think He’s the conquering king, that He’s going to overthrow Rome and give power back to the Jews.  This after Good Friday and Easter.  They still don’t understand.

  1. He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

 

And so the resurrected Lord continues to teach.  This is still the same Christ who said even He doesn’t know the day or the hour, but only the Father in heaven.  The Second Coming of Christ is coming, but that’s not for you to worry over.  I have something for you to do.

  1. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Again, Pentecost here.  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.  And they do, and then they witness.  They go out, they leave the locked house and they share the good news of Christ with the world around them.

And while not everything Jesus says to His disciples applies directly to us, this one doesn’t, this is one we can still learn from.  Jesus isn’t commanding you to go to Jerusalem and Samaria.  That was their task, but we could still see it as formula in a sense.  Think about it.  Jerusalem is their immediate location.  That’s where they are.  For you, discipleship starts with your immediate location, your immediate family, it starts at home.  Train up your children in the way they should go.  As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

What’s next?  Judea?  What’s Judea in relation to Jerusalem?  Jerusalem is the capital, Judea is the surrounding country.  Those closest to you.  Look at your vocations, think of your neighbors, your friends, your subdivision.  And after Judea, Samaria.  What’s Samaria?  It’s the capital city of the old rivaling nation.  This is why Jews hate Samaritans.  It’s a further distance traveled for certain, so your whole community perhaps.  Your enemies, maybe?  And then to the ends of the earth.  The good news is for all people.

  1. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

 

There really isn’t much about the ascension.  It just happens.  Jesus is teaching, and then He just lifts up to heaven.  He’s going up, up, and away.  He’s gone, He’s left, and you can see the reaction:

  1. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.

 

 

You can imagine that.  You’re just talking with someone, having a good conversation, and they just start floating off to heaven.  Strange stuff.  They were staring.  Jaws might have been hanging open.

And who are the men dressed in white here?  We have a couple of angels that appear and speak to the disciples.

  1. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

He’s gone, but He’s coming back.  It’s almost like the angels just came down to tell the disciples to snap out of it.  It’s reassurance, certainly, comfort.  Don’t worry.  He’s with you.  He’s promised.  That’s great stuff.

The whole of the ascension is great stuff.  Jesus doesn’t float off to nowhere.  Don’t get the image of Jesus drifting around in space on an inflatable pool toy.  That’s not what this is.  He’s made promises to us.  First, that He would return to His Father in heaven.  This is His reign.  This is the 1,000 years of Revelation stuff as Christ reigns as King over His kingdom, over the whole earth.  He’s doing that as He’s sitting in His throne at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  In the midst of political chaos, that’s comforting.  He’s King, He’s in charge.  Everything is going to be alright.

Then He also promised that if He left, He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to us.  This is the same Spirit who comes on the disciples at Pentecost.  This is the pouring out of the same Spirit in the waters of baptism that proclaims you to be a forgiven child of God, heir of the everlasting Kingdom of Christ.  Christ left so He could send the Spirit who would then work faith in you.

And then He also promised that He was preparing a place for us.  We talked about that a couple weekends ago.  A new heaven, a new earth.  Our final home, whatever it may look like.  Jesus ascended to prepare that home for you.  And it is finished.  And you’re going to love it.  Because you’ll be in Paradise with God forever.

This is a great text.  There’s teaching here, Jesus gave His disciples things to do.  But there’s also sweet gospel, as the ascension of Christ into heaven fulfills God’s plan.  Christ is King of creation as originally intended.  He is caring for us.  He sent His Spirit into our midst to create and sustain faith in us.  And as the angels promised, He’s coming again to reclaim what is His.  And that includes the children of God.  That includes us.  And so we await the Second Coming of Christ.  Praying indeed, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Death and the Second Coming November 9, 2014

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Proper 27

November 9, 2014

 

Focus:  God gives us life with Him forever.

Function:  That the hearers live every day as though it were their last.

Structure:  Problem-Solution-Implication.

 

Death and the Second Coming

 

College is a unique time in the lives of our young people today.  They’re actively searching for the kinds of experiences that will give them new thrills, new insights, new wisdom.  But it’s a process of trial and error.  We take risks, we make mistakes, and we learn from them.

When I was in college, we knew these things.  We realized, at some level, what we were doing.  And so my friends and I had a phrase that we often told each other.  In some ways it was a joke, but it was also a warning.  Whenever someone was up to no good, plotting shenanigans, or was about to do something really stupid, we would say to them, “Remember, there’s no cutting in line to see Jesus.”

Today is the opposite of last week.  Last week was a great opportunity to focus on life, to celebrate the gift of life that God gives to us.  And we did that, we had a guest speaker, Rev. Dr. Jim Lamb talk about life from womb to grave.  And we celebrated the lives of the ten men and women who are now with Christ in Paradise.

But today we’re focusing on death.  Death is part of the cycle of life.  We see it in the seasons, that as spring comes, we enjoy new life.  We plant gardens and crops.  We plant flowers that will bloom, and everything around us seems to be green.

And yet, fall comes.  The leaves begin to turn colors.  Grass becomes brown.  Plants wither and die.  And as fall gives way to winter, wildlife virtually disappears.

And for some 6000 years, God has been creating people, granting life.  And yet, in all those years, billions of billions of people have eventually died.  We’ve all lost people we loved and cared about.  Many of us have seen death.  As best as we can, we try to prepare ourselves for it.

My question for you today is simple.  I want you to think for a moment, and honestly answer yourself this question:  Do I believe I will die someday?  If I asked you to raise your hands, I wonder how many of you would.

But I’m not going to.  Because if you did, you might be embarrassed when I say you have the wrong answer.  Because we’ve made death something it’s not.  Death is not part of life.

But our language has done us in.  Much like the phrase “what goes up must come down,” our culture believes, “what lives dies.”  With the way that we see death, with the way that we talk about it, with the way that we view it as inevitable, it’s no wonder why we are where we are today.   Death is now viewed as normal.  More than that, death is now viewed as our friend.

One of the biggest news stories over the past few weeks is that of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old woman with a severe form of brain cancer called glioblastoma.  The doctors told her recently that she only had another six months to live.  So she decided to take her own life on her own time.  And last weekend, she did just that.

She viewed death as inevitable.  To her, there was no alternative, no other option.  It was either die now while I’m happy, or go through pain and die in a few months anyway.  It’s no wonder she took the pills, she saw no other possible outcome for her life.

Too often, even in the church, even as Christians, we have the wrong view of death. We look at it as a solution to a problem, a solution to suffering and pain.  We say things like: “It’s good to die, because we get to go to heaven and be with Jesus.” We tend to make death a friend, instead of seeing it as the enemy it really is, as the penalty for being a sinner.

As CNN followed up on Brittany’s choice, they interviewed another woman who is suffering from the same glioblastoma brain cancer.  Maggie Karner opposed what Brittany did.  As part of the back and forth, the CNN reporter at one point said, “We all have this desire to die while we’re still the same person we’ve always been.”

pause

That struck me…and I hope it struck you.  There’s not an ounce in me that has a desire to die.  Not even in the sense that the reporter meant it.  My body is running full force in the opposite direction of death.  Our God and Creator and Father is not the author and perfector of death.  He’s the author and perfector of life.  There’s nothing natural about death.

As Christians, we need to see death differently.  We need to think differently.  We need to live differently.  And our three Scripture passages for this week tell us why:  Christ is coming back.

Each passage has a different message to tell us about Christ’s Second Coming.  Our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Amos is a warning.  He was doing his job as a prophet, calling the people of God back to repentance.  His hearers had abandoned God.  They weren’t following Him, they weren’t repenting of their lives full of sin.  And so Amos warned them that they should not be seeking the Day of the Lord, for that day holds only darkness for them.

But our Epistle is so much the opposite.  Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica has a different tone.  He’s talking to followers of Christ.  The one problem he did have to deal with was pretty unique.  See when he told them Christ was coming soon, they took it literally, as they should.  But they took it so literally that they stopped working.  If Christ is coming back soon, why should we worry about the harvest?  Paul had to correct that.  He had to tell them that we don’t know when, just that He will.  So we work until then.

But there’s beauty in the part we read today.  Paul proclaims the good news that our Savior will indeed return, and that those who have fallen asleep will be raised to new life, and those of us who have yet to fall asleep will be caught up together with them with Christ.  There will be several generations of men and women who will never taste death…

Our New Testament reading from Matthew gives us another look.  It serves both as a warning, but also as a way of telling us what life looks like when we truly believe that Christ is coming back.  He records Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins.

In their culture, in that time and place, they had a custom that seems quite odd to us.  The groom played a game with his bride.  The groom and his men would wait at couple’s new home for any period of time.  The bride and her bridesmaids were to wait at her father’s home until the groom came.  But they were to be ready at all times.  He could come the first day; he could come at 2am.  He could wait a couple of months if he really wanted.

But eventually, he would come.  And when he was approaching the house, the person on watch would call out to the rest, “The bridegroom is coming!”  They would all grab their things and then accompany the groom and his men back to the couple’s new home, where there tended to be a large party that lasted for about a week.

This parallels so well to our relationship with God.  Christ is the groom.  We’re the bride.  We’re awaiting His coming, for Him to leave His home which He has prepared for us, and to come and get us.

In this parable, five of the bridesmaids were ready at the random time, five weren’t.  The five that were got to go to groom’s home and party.  The others tried to catch up, they tried to get in, but the groom told them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”  Christ then concludes the parable by saying “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The emphasis of the parable is that we, as the bride of Christ, are to always be ready, always prepared for His return.  When I was serving as a vicar, my supervisor, Pastor Eric Allyn always joked about this.  He always ate his dessert before his meal.  When pressed for the reason why, he would say, “It’s an eschatological statement of the Parousia, just in case Christ comes back in the middle of the meal, I want to have eaten the best part!”

We’ll hear others in our culture with good intentions tell us to live every day to the fullest because you just never know if it’ll be your last.  In some respects, there’s truth there, but not because of what they mean.  They mean you don’t know when you’ll die.

But as Christians, we live every day to the fullest in the firm belief that Christ is coming back.     We live every day to the fullest so that we’re prepared, so we’re ready.  We live every day to the fullest so that the Holy Spirit can work through us to create faith in others, so that there are more people at the party.

Like the Thessalonians, I don’t believe I’ll die.  I live every day, I pray every day, in anticipation of Christ’s return.  But unlike the Thessalonians, I keep working, to share the good news and to take care of my family and my community.  Because who knows, maybe the groom will come tonight, or maybe He’ll keep waiting for a while yet.  Either way, I will be prepared.