Sermon for November 13th

Sermon “Proclaiming God’s Future in Uncertain Times”

Well, thank the Lord above that the horrible election season is over at last! Or is it really? Isaiah says the wolf and the Lamb will have lunch together, but democrats, republicans and independents seem more intent on still trying to have each other FOR lunch. Many, it seems, are not thinking that reconciliation, mutual forbearance and dialogue is either possible or desirable. Harsh words still ring in the air. It is a strange time in our land isn’t it. Well, today’s scriptures are written for just such times. They are at once a bit scary and yet enormously comforting. Our nation and our world seem hopelessly divided. But these scriptures point to a far higher truth: God has the future planned and it will be glorious. In the meantime, troubles are not only to be expected but are in fact promised.

Let’s take a look first at the gospel reading. Luke records Jesus’ words in the temple courtyard during the last week of his ministry before his crucifixion. He and his disciples had just watched a poor widow drop her two tiny copper coins in the offering box. And they were standing there in awe of the spectacular Temple that Herod the Great had built. It was made of White Limestone, richly decorated with Silver and Gold. It must have been spectacular! It was a prime source of national pride and religious devotion – yet Jesus says it was all going away. Not one stone was to be left stacked on another. All of it was destined for destruction. How that must have shocked and upset them. It would be like someone telling us that Washington DC was going back to the swamp it was built on.

After shocking them with the prophesy about the future of the temple, which was by the way, likely already a historical fact by the time Luke had finished his gospel, Jesus is immediately questioned about exactly when all of this was to take place. Jesus instead gives them a list of things that could describe many ages in the years between them and us. False prophets and messiah’s – we have seen many – Those who promise prosperity, secret knowledge, the restoration of pride and power – sound familiar? What else was to come? Wars and insurrections – there have been precious few times when this has not been true. Nation striving against nation and natural disasters one after another has been the constant refrain of History from the beginning. Diseases and famines are not new and are certainly not going away either. Also people are being arrested and persecuted right now because of because they are Christian in many parts of the world; it has happened many times before, and it will doubtless continue into the future. The world goes on much as it always has. When will God step in and take center stage to straighten it all out? Jesus didn’t say, but the disciples seemed to expect it would be soon. No wonder a few years later Peter remarked “…in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts [4] and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

Jesus warned his disciples exactly what the world that they were sent to minister in was going to be like. The temple was going away and persecutions were coming. All of the familiar problems of Mankind could be expected to continue for quite some time. Some of them in fact were destined for Martyrdom, but all were eternally secure in the love of God. Regardless of the situations or signs and portents: they were to live and witness with faith and endurance – that was his point. The natural instinct of many Christians seems to be to worry about the end of things, trying to figure out just when and where it will happen. Yet what Jesus emphasized was what they were to do in the meantime – they were to witness. They were to testify about how God had broken into this sick and wounded world to bring a message of salvation and the ultimate redemption of creation. Our job is the same. Our task is to tell of the Love of God in Jesus Christ. How God’s perfect future has and will continue to break into our world until that blessed day when it come in its fullness.

Paul warned the congregation at Thessalonica not to sit back and wait for the end – there was work to be done. Urgent, important, Godly work to be done. He sharply pointed out to them that sitting back and just talking and gossiping about problems was wrong. Instead he insisted: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” So what about us?… when people around you are fixated on worry… You respond with Faith and hope and love.

When you are in a conversation with those who fear immigrants or people with a different faith – absolutely sure that they are the enemy. What are we called to do? Respond with Faith in God’s future, Point with hope to that future, and share the love of Christ in the here and now, and remind them that Christ died for all.

When those around you are convinced that one or the other politician is the antichrist himself. What do you do? Stand there and join in the ain’t it awful game? No, we are warned against being busybodies and not doing any work. So what is our work? Our work is to point to the kingdom of God that is coming and is already partially here. We are to love and to share the good news. The news that Christ died for all. So you might be thinking, I can’t change or save the world, why bother trying? Well, you would be right, you can’t. But hear the good news: It’s already been done, its complete fulfillment only waits for God’s perfect time. We already have a Savior, we only need to trust in him.

God’s glorious future is certain. Peter goes on a bit later to say 2 Peter 3:9 NRSV [9] The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” That too is good news.

The future that God has in store for us is a great encouragement and an example of what we should strive for here and now. Not in the vain hope that somehow, by our own efforts we can remake this world into the paradise it was created to be. No in our fallen state, we our incapable of that. Yet, God IS able and God HAS promised. Lets look at the Isaiah passage to get a beautiful description of what our world will one day, by the grace of God become: Isaiah 65:18-25 NRSV

[18] But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. [19] I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. [20] No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. [21] They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. [22] They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. [23] They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD- and their descendants as well. [24] Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. [25] The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent-its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

That is what the world is supposed to be like and the state we are called toward. A time when sickness and disease will be no more, a time when all children will be valued and cared for, A time when justice when all will have a place to live and food to eat. A time when the labor of everyone’s hands will be blessed and fruitful. Harming another will be unthinkable, our prayers will be answered while we are still praying. Sounds pretty much like heaven on earth doesn’t it? And so it will be when our Lord comes to rule on this earth. Its in the meantime that we live however. And in the meantime, there is harm done, people are hungry and homeless, children are abused and raised into strife and snakes and wolves do bite. It is against those things that we are sent, armed only with the love of God and the Power of the Holy Spirit – and that is quite enough. We are not told what tomorrow might bring, But we most certainly are told who is bringing us into that future. And so we go with Hope, with Faith and with Love.

A few words just for us now. This may seem like a peculiar message for a Sunday beginning a week that will see a congregational meeting called to give away the church building and host a Presbytery meeting that will vote to dissolve the congregation. Why is the preacher talking about a glorious future? Because! the future belongs to God; because we are a peculiar people who loudly proclaim there is life after death, even when standing by the grave of a loved one; Because God is not done with any of us just yet and is even now calling each towards a new future with new congregations and because there is still need of the gifts that God has given us, just as there is a need for this facility by a new congregation that God is calling into existence right now. Because God is making something new from us and we get to delight in new possibilities and a new future. Because the church of Jesus Christ is far greater than this one group. Because this is not ending, it is merely one more step into God’s future. God does not promise that our institutions will last forever, but God does promise that his do. God is so good, let us bravely step towards his call.