Message for Advent 2

January 3, 2018 Leave a comment

“God Comforts His People”

Grace and peace…

Jesus is the Comfort of God, the evidence of God’s patience, but also the evidence of God’s call to repentance before the earth and the heavens are burned up on the coming Day of God. That’s the context for meeting the wild-eyed prophet John the Baptizer, in the wilderness of the Jordan. And this week, that struck me as particularly Good News. We can all use some Good News these days.

It’s been a week, hasn’t it? In international news and in national news, I can’t keep up with all the speeches that cause riots and the riots that prompt speeches. Who is left in Hollywood anymore unaccused of impropriety? But we do react. The weaker reactions are more along the lines of: “Aw, now I’m sad. I liked him.” But the reactions among the tribes of true believers are much stronger. The accusations against your guy are real and he has to resign but the accusations against my guy are fake and he should stay where he is making movies or policy. I should also point out this has been happening in the church for decades too and not just in the highly publicized cases in the Catholic Church but also among Evangelical Christians and Lutherans. It all boggles the mind but it is the truth getting out, and, in its own way, making paths straight and rough places level.

The media says this is a particularly good time for women. I hope it is. No woman should have to put up with the kinds of stories that are coming to light. But I can promise you, no matter how much of a reckoning there is, it will not be enough. It will miss the mark. This is not the day of the Lord Peter says will come like a thief. On that day, all will be laid plain on that day. We may be in the midst of a day of reckoning but it is not THE day, at least not yet.

John too, came warning of the coming of that day, like Isaiah and the prophets before him.

Yes, John’s coming is OT prophecy fulfilled, but that’s about like saying true love is about biochemical reactions in lovers’ brains. It’s true, but it’s almost the more boring and least wonderful thing you could say about it. Almost seven hundred years after Isaiah’s prophecy and some 400 years after the prophets went silent, God is making it happen. He has sent John to proclaim the Coming One is near. Repent. You don’t want to meet the mighty One who comes in the state you’re in. Repent now, said John. John looked and sounded like an OT prophet. In fact, it would be far more helpful for us to think of John as an OT prophet, or to get rid of the idea of an OT altogether. Both Isaiah and John looking forward to Jesus’ coming and people like Peter looking back at what Jesus’ coming meant. I read this week that the one page of the Bible we should completely rip out of our Bibles is that page after Malachi and before Matthew that announces the beginning of the New Testament. Just like the end times come to the front of our thinking about the beginning of the Church Year, the OT prophets bleed their way into what we call the New Testament. The New Testament is not like a new formula of laundry soap that once you’ve tried you’d never go back to the Old formula. It’s more like the key that unlocks the door. Everything said by God to the world up to that point is completely understood now fully in the light of Christ’s coming.

It’s the kind of awareness of the universe around us that some are trying to get through altering their brain chemistry or deep meditation. The challenge for us Christians is to see and hear these passages for what they truly are, glimpses and sidelong glances of the reality that lay just beyond the grasp of our normal understanding and only truly understood by faith.

Let me see if I can find an example to get at what I’m trying to say. Ever heard a man talk about the miracle of childbearing and birth? There is no man in the world empathetic enough to understand what it means to daily watch as life stirs from with and it is born into the world. Interestingly, it is this very way, the limitless and eternal God Himself comes into our world. Maybe I should save this line for Mother’s Day but in this way mothers are closer to the experience of God. Father’s experience it in a very different way. In this way, mothers and fathers are supposed to complement each other as they are God’s conduit of creation in our world. But now in searching for an illustration, I’ve gone a little wide of my target. My point is that we can only be aware of what we can truly experience in its fullness, not just by association.

What must if have been like to hear the authentic voice of God come from the mouth of John. “Repent! Now is the time to turn around and go in the way God wants you to go.” And, “After me comes he who is mightier than I.” Whoa! I’m not sure I want to meet him who is mightier than John. John is impressive enough to me. This guys is authentic prophet of God. That’s camel’s hair he’s wearing. Do you think he even realizes what he smells like? He eats grasshoppers and wild honey. That’s pretty extreme. And there’s one mightier than He is coming? What will he look like? What will he wear? What will he say? What is this baptism of the Holy Spirit? Of course we know, It’s Jesus.

Isaiah was right:

Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,

and his arm rules for him;

behold, his reward is with him,

and his recompense before him.

11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;

he will gather the lambs in his arms;

he will carry them in his bosom,

and gently lead those that are with young.

And in Jesus, this promise was made good too. Jesus came and tended the people like a shepherd. And it’s right that even looking at John our gaze would be drawn to Jesus.

But I think too often we look at John baptizing in the Jordan and we miss how significant a figure he is, how jarring a figure he is, how wild and untamed he is. It takes someone like John in all his strange ways to begin to wake the world out of a 400-year slumber. And John preaches repentance.

How do you hear that word? Is it a call to wake up for you or not? The word repent is like an alarm clock. For those who went to bed early and are prepared for the next day, it’s a gentle reminder of what time it is. For those who worked or partied into the wee hours, it’s a painful reminder that the time has come. Is there some area of your life where God is speaking where you have tried to hit the snooze button? What would happen if you just gave that thing over to God?

If John’s coming is what was promised in Isaiah, his coming is a good thing: it’s a word of comfort to the people that their hard service is over. He comes as a herald to tell the people, fear not, the Lord comes to care for his people, to tend them like a shepherd.

I know there is a great deal that competes for attention at this time of year. And there are a lot of things that sound good like “goodwill toward others” and “Christmas spirit.” But I would offer that if the message doesn’t smell a little bit like camel, it’s probably not really pointing us in the right direction. Be careful that the Good News is not eclipsed by our attention on what passes for news today. There’s no need to worry; it’s all going to come out one day. And until then, the one John promised has come. And he proclaims comfort. God forgives your sins. Wake up. A new day has dawned and God wants you to be part of it. Amen.

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Message for Advent 1

January 3, 2018 Leave a comment

The King Comes!

Grace and peace…

It’s Advent. I love Advent. There’s just something about the anticipation of Advent that grows sweeter each week. Of course children and adults alike are anticipating the celebrations of Christmas, but even our Gospel reading is wringing wet with anticipation of what’s coming next for Jesus. After three years, we say, of public ministry, Jesus enters Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week to hails of “Hosanna” and “Welcome to kingdom of our father David! The king comes! It couldn’t be any clearer, Jesus enters Jerusalem as her king.

I know, about this point in messages about Palm Sunday, you hear preachers start to waffle a bit and say things like, “Well, Jesus comes like a king, but kings ride horses and here he is riding a donkey so he comes as a humble king. And that’s not really wrong, but it misses the point. Jesus comes like a Davidic king. Mark takes great pains to explain the use of the unbroken colt Jesus rides and how Jesus came to ride it. One commentary I read mentioned something I’d never heard before which was that if Jesus was truly king, he would have the right if “impressment”, that is to acquire and use the animal for an immediate purpose. (EBC) Kind of like the police commandeering a vehicle in the movies.

Those details are interesting because it suggests there is some importance to them either pointing to Jesus’ authority or Jesus’ divine ability to know beforehand that the animal would be there. Regardless, the disciples found the animal just as Jesus had said they would and did what he told them to do.

And Jesus rides to enter the City of David as her king. Kings ride horses, proud horses, warhorses, not donkeys. Right, we know that. Roman kings will come not just with one horse but with four powerful warhorses pulling a chariot. Jesus comes riding a donkey. But that’s a completely king David kind of thing to do. And the OT tells us that no other king of Israel rode a donkey since David’s son, Solomon. So, yeah, Jesus isn’t on a warhorse, but if he was, it wouldn’t have made him a Davidic king. And Jesus rides.

Now think about it. Where else do we read that Jesus rides a mount? Nowhere. All the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus walked everywhere he went except this time. This is a special event. Observant Jews would travel to Jerusalem at least three times a year and the normal way to do that was humbly on foot. By riding, Jesus is doing something special, claiming something special. It’s pretty clear that Jesus is intentionally acting out the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-10.

ESV

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem as her king. And the crowds understand it very clearly as a fulfilling of God’s OT promises.

Crowds of pilgrims were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. But there was also another crowd following Jesus from Bethany where he had raised Lazarus. The combined crowds spread their garments out on the road in front of him. There’s actually an OT precedent for this in 2 Kings 9 where the crowds do the same thing for Jehu. Its an act of submission, like making a an oath of loyalty or fealty. Which begs the question, how ready are we to give of ourselves to honor king Jesus? What would be the equivalent of laying down our cloaks and cutting palm branches to welcome him?

The crowds are shouting Hoshi’ah na, from Psalm 118. “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” O Lord, we pray, give us success! (Ps 118:25)

Psalm 118 was the last of the Hallel, the pilgrims’ processional songs from the psalms for Passover. It isn’t striking that they would be singing it. What is striking is that they are singing to Jesus. This was a shout of welcome to Jesus, the Davidic king.

Two hundred hears earlier, Judas Maccabaeus who had defeated the wicked Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes, entered Jerusalem with the crowds waving palm branches and singing. He cleansed and restored the temple from the desecration of Antiochus. He started a royal dynasty that lasted a hundred years, until the Hasmonians came to power. And blessed is the one who comes in the powerful name of God Most High! Jesus is following in not just ancient Israel’s history, but some rather recent history for them too.

Jesus heard the crowds calling out to him with shouts of Hosanna! and did not correct them. He accepted the titles of Messiah and Davidic king. Jesus was every bit a king as human kings and then some. Jesus entered Jerusalem as king. And not just of Jerusalem or Israel, or a non-Roman occupied Palestine. Jesus entered Jerusalem as king of all the earth deliberately reenacting OT prophecies.

We hear this passage with the anticipation of a coming holiday celebration. Do we hear it with the anticipation of the return of our king? All of that expectant energy that we feel at the end of the church year doesn’t evaporate with the turning of the calendar to a new Church year. In the season of Advent, we’re not supposed to act like we don’t know the Christ is born and more than we’re supposed to be surprised Christ is raised on Easter morning. No, we’re supposed to look forward to his coming again, which is clearly promised by his having come once already. And when he comes, welcome him as king.

I asked the question earlier about how much of our selves we would give to honor Jesus in his coming? Would we lay down our cloaks? What is the modern equivalent? Do we understand that king Jesus comes today in this very hour? We even sing the same words the crowd sang that day to welcome him and honor him as king of all the earth. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the the name of the Lord. Make no mistake, He comes. Do you long for that? Is there as much joy for you in that moment as any imagined moment of being among that crowd that day on the ascent into Jerusalem? If we’re honest, we have to say no.

But the good news is the same king Jesus who entered Jerusalem that day, humble and riding a donkey, is the same king Jesus that comes to you today with one significant exception. What was only just about to happen that week, his final teaching, his last supper and institution of the Lord’s Supper, his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, his death and burial, his resurrection and conquering of death itself, that was all only just about to happen. What the crowd could only wait for in eager expectation, king Jesus has already accomplished for you and is delivered to you as the king’s royal pardon of all your sins against the crown.

To anticipate his coming again, would simply be to anticipate the celebration of all that he has already accomplished for us all. That’s something to celebrate. Welcome, King Jesus. Hosanna. Amen.

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Message for Nov 26

January 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Grace and peace…

It’s the Last Sunday of the Church year and certainly if the readings for a past few Sundays have been hinting at the Last Day, today the theme is total. Over the past couple messages, I’ve tried to say that the Last Day is not a day for Christians to fear but in many ways to look forward to. The Gospel reading and the Old Testament reading today go together to highlight that idea, too. There is coming a day when the Shepherd will tend and care for His own in a way that forever protects them from further harm and jeopardy. Like the reckoning of accounts last week, Jesus’ coming to separate the sheep from the goats is a good thing not a thing to be feared. I think we need to be hearing this week’s Gospel reading with last week’s in mind because they come one right after the other. And again, remember, Jesus speaks these words mere hours before He’s arrested on Thursday night after the Last Supper. He’s speaking to His disciples to prepare them for what’s coming and He’s speaking to confirm His teaching in opposition to the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. In fact, immediately after our reading this morning, Matthew confirms that the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem met to conspire with Caiaphas to kill Jesus.

So, if that’s the context, who are the sheep in our Gospel reading? Who are the goats? The sheep are the people who have come to accept what Jesus has taught about the kingdom of heaven. The goats are those that have rejected that message. What has been Jesus’ chief criticism of the Pharisees? Their religiosity has them pointed in the wrong direction. Jesus insists they’re wrong in a diatribe against them that starts back in chapter 23. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Instead of being blessed in order to be a blessing to others, they try to store up for themselves treasures in heaven and impress God with their religious acts. What follows those verses then are seven pronouncements of woe. Like an OT prophet of Israel, Jesus speaks against them and their twisted religiosity. In one woe, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” Whoa! That’s some woe. The scribes and Pharisees are religious in all the wrong ways.

Incidentally, this was precisely Luther’s criticism of the Church’s teaching about monks and nuns in his day. Is God really that impressed that you prayed all seven hours today if the hungry lie at the gate unfed? Is God really impressed that we prayed all 150 psalms this week if the poor have no shelter? Think clearly about which act is truly a good work in God’s eyes. Luther’s line was “God does not need your good works but your neighbor does.” And so, Jesus’ proclamation against the goats today sounds quite a bit like Luther’s comments against the Church’s teaching about monastic life in his day. But Luther isn’t just concerned about what amounts to true good works and nor is Jesus. But what about us? Is there some danger that we would become more like the scribes and Pharisees. Could as we wrap up the Church Year, which we have to admit is man made, and head into another Advent season, which again is man made, are we at risk of religiosity rather than true faith?

Or is our only sin that we may unnecessarily fear the Lord’s return? Jesus speaks these words against the religious leaders of Jerusalem. Is there not also a warning here for us lest we become like the Pharisees and let religiosity overtake love for others and serving them in their need?

If you’re up for it, let’s do a thought experiment. It’s the last Sunday of the Church Year, so let’s just take it as it is the Last Sunday, the Last Day. Jesus is coming back at the end of this message. He will separate the sheep from the goats. Have no fear, dear Christian. The Lord knows you didn’t do everything right. That’s not the point of this experiment. Jesus was born for you. He suffered and died for your sins. He rose to show you the way to eternal life. It was the Father’s plan all along. So now, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” When He comes, He will welcome you to His table to eat in His presence His feast with His blessing in His peace forever. Amen.

There are probably a couple reactions. One might be, “Wait a minute, how can I be sure I’m a sheep?” That’s not really Jesus’ point in this reading, if you’re not a scribe or Pharisee, you don’t have to be too worried. But my question was asking whether we have become like them. So let’s use the idea of a man-made tradition like the Church calendar as a test case. We’re a Lutheran Church and so the Church’s calendar underwent reform like almost everything else in the Church. Do you have any idea what the rule was in those reforms? The Gospel was the criteria by which everything was judged. So how about a saint day that competed with a day that was significant in the life of Jesus? The Gospel criterion pushed it back toward Jesus or off the calendar altogether. The Gospel was the criterion that everything was judged against.

I would argue the same Gospel criterion should be in place for us today. Which is more important, Sunday morning service or a fellowship activity? Specifically, which is a function of the Gospel among us, that is, where will you find the forgiveness of sins. The fellowship activity is important but not a function of the Gospel like the Divine Service is. We’ve arrived at the nexus of our life together here. The Gospel must determine what’s most important to our life together as Christians, lest we end up a club with some traditions that look religious but in the end point us away from Jesus instead of drawing us closer to Him.

We’re getting closer to that time when we’ll be decorating for the Christmas season and so consider the Christmas tree. There has to be a congregation out there where there has been a nasty argument about the Christmas tree, not just whether or not to have one, although that was probably over a hundred years ago, but maybe also when to put it up or to take it down. Again all of this is based on a given tradition, not anything in Scripture. There are no Christmas trees in the Bible. Having said that, why do we bother? Why a Christmas tree? Some might see it is a nod to pagans about bring evergreens inside during the bleak mid-winter. That won’t do for Christians. The Christmas tree points us not toward nostalgia or the sparkle of lights but toward the cross as the one who is born has come to die on a tree. The Gospel is the criterion we use for all such things. Does it point us to Jesus or draw us away from Him?

And I would also say that that Gospel criterion is what should also be operative in the rest of our lives. It should direct our decision making about everything from who our spouse should be to what job we should take to what entertainment we should engage in. And when we do that we’re full circle back to what Jesus is finding in those who followed Him. And the believers sound surprised, don’t they, when Jesus said they fed Him, gave Him something to drink, welcomed Him, clothed Him, and visited Him? It’s because they saw Christ in everyone they served. The unbelievers sound maybe even more surprised when Jesus tells them they failed to see Christ in others. Still the bar for salvation is not what one has done, so much as faith in Christ, as it has always been.

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Message for Nov 19

January 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Grace and peace

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is telling another parable. He’s trying to explain how the kingdom of heaven is different from the kingdoms of human experience. In the kingdom of heaven, the last are as good as the first. I’m thinking of that readings from a few Sundays ago where the last hired to work in the vineyard get the same wage as those who worked the whole day. The last are first and the first, last. The order Jesus describes is very different from our experience. What have we experienced? The first are first and the last are last. Right? In fact there almost seems to be something sneakily suspicious about this kingdom. The kingdom Jesus talks about sounds a bit too much like the little league where everybody gets a trophy or the classrooms where no grades are given. I just want to clarify that when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, He’s not talking about heaven as we imagine it, so much as the rule of heaven restored on earth. So when Jesus starts His ministry, He preaches the kingdom of heaven has come near, that is, Jesus’ coming is about restoring God’s order in this world, not just in the world to come.

This Sunday, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven being something like a master who has given his servants large sums of money and, when he returns, there’s an accounting. And that fits in with the larger context of the day with all the talk of the Lord’s coming again, right? The servant given five talents has earned five talents more. The servant with 3 talents has earned three talents more. The servant given one talent, who didn’t do anything with it, he gets what’s coming to him. A reckoning. A judgment. The first shall be first and the last will be last, at last. Phew, right? It’s not all topsy-turvy, the meek inherit the earth stuff, is it?

Some of you know that since our last vicar left, I have been going up to campus on Wednesday nights during term and leading a Bible study. I did it last year and I’ve continued to do that this year. And it’s been a real joy to work with young people who are in the phase of life where everything is being questioned, including faith. Their lives are focused around learning and assessment of that learning, papers, presentations, and exams. There’s typically a real clarity in that academic “kingdom” to the effort/reward relationship. Study the right material well and typically you earn a good grade. Earn enough good grades and earn the degree. Earn the right degree and earn a place in society and get rewarded with a good job with a good salary and everything that goes along with that, health insurance, retirement, maybe even dental.

It’s a pretty good metaphor, isn’t it? God has published a syllabus, right? Good habits will help you succeed. But is that how we’re supposed to take what Jesus is saying? Is Jesus talking about the great and coming day of the final exam?

Does this sound like Jesus? I keep saying that context is key when we read the Bible. If we read Jesus’ parable today in that light, would we be in keeping with the whole of Jesus’ ministry?

We’re in chapter 25 this morning and since chapter 23, Jesus has been speaking in strong opposition to the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. We’re supposed to read this parable with the scribes and Pharisees being the servant who buried the talent. And we’re also supposed to see this parable as a warning to not do like they have done. Jesus is preparing his followers for His departure and long absence from them. He will go away soon. He speaks these words just hours before the Last Supper. Jesus is not highlighting the reckoning when He returns so much as highlighting the great gift of the five talents and the three talents and the faithful use of them while He’s away. This is what believers will be doing with what the master, God, gives.

Just a quick word about “talent” here. In the Bible, a talent is a unit of weight measurement, somewhere between 58 and 75 pounds. If we’re talking about a talent of gold at it’s heaviest, we’re talking about just over one and half million dollars in today’s money. So three talents and five talents of gold, we’re talking about some real money. It’s maybe confusing for us because we don’t weigh gold or anything else in talents. When we talk about a talent, we typically mean a gift or skill that someone has. Our use actually comes from this biblical idea because a talent was supposed to be the amount of money a person could earn in about 15 years. And the connection is that these talents are “given” to these servants by the master.

Let me ask the question because I think it needs an answer. Is God the giver of all that we have and need? And before you answer yes too quickly, ask yourself why you think what you have is yours. Thanksgiving is this week, a national holiday in the US. I remember realizing just how much I was conditioned to think about Thanksgiving the first Thanksgiving I spent outside the country. Interestingly, within my lifetime I’ve witnessed what I think is a societal shift in our thinking about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving presupposes that God is the giver of all we have and that we haven’t so much as earned it as much as we have received it by His gracious hand. But our society based on getting more and more doesn’t know what to do with a holiday set to give thanks for what we already have. And so even among us, Thanksgiving is now but the first feast in the seasonal binge of consuming that is December. Giving thanks is a real challenge for believers to day because it presupposes we haven’t earned it, it means we believe we are nothing but given to. It’s at the heart a life of following Jesus.

The scribes and the Pharisees are like the servant who buried the money given him. And this fits with what we know of Jesus’ criticism of the religious people of his day. They had been given the gift of God’s Law through Moses. They had been given the gift of the land, not just once, but three times: Abraham, Joshua, and the restoration after the Babylonian captivity. They had been given the gift of the temple, God’s dwelling place on earth. They were the recipients of this limitless treasure of God’s great promises. Not only were they God’s blessed people, they were to bless all the peoples of the earth. And what had they done with it? They buried it. And why? They did not understand the true character of the master. They feared him rather than seeing him as the reckless giver of every good thing. How do we see God? Do we stand far off from him in fear of doing the wrong thing, looking to judge our righteousness against others? The five talent servant and the three talent servant both get the same exact reward. God’s not keeping score. He’s looking for faithfulness not fear. Dear servant with three talents, do not covet the servant with five talents. Whatever you do, use what God has given you in faithfulness, not fear. God is a gracious giver of every good. The one talent servant completely misunderstood the character of the master. If we read chapter 25 here in light of the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the scribes and Pharisees took the light they were given and hidden it under a bushel rather than let it light the whole house. Here Jesus calls them worthless slaves bound for the outer darkness.

The five talent servant and the three talent servant are those who have heard the call of Jesus and received the gifts of God and put them to use. They are like the mustard seed that when planted, springs up to be a large bush. They are like the seed planted in the good ground that bears fruit a hundred fold, or in this case, double. If we have to, we can go back to the classroom metaphor. They would be the students who showed up to class and took good notes, but really they produced good results because of what the professor sowed into them. In the sense that Jesus is talking at all about a great final examination one day, that exam comes from a professor who knows the students are ready to ace it because they’ve already been given everything they need out his overflowing love for them.

I don’t want to take anything away from the real reckoning that will take place. It will happen one day. And, yes, God does want His people to use wisely the gifts He gives them. And, yes, make no mistake, God did send His Son to make sure people know the proper content of the exam. The exam is coming. This parable talks about just this one aspect of the kingdom of God’s will on earth and barely hints at the other aspects we know to still hold like the love of a gracious God who gives generously everything we need, who gives even His own Son as the highest expression of His love for His creation.

And as harsh as it sounds for the wicked servant to be cast into outer darkness, don’t forget that Jesus was mere hours away from walking headlong into that darkness where he would suffer the abandonment of the master on the cross.

The world God wants us to live in is like this situation where an incredibly wealthy man gives his stewards an incredible share of his wealth to put to good use while he’s away. He’s coming back one day and will look for an accounting of what he entrusted to us. Be faithful. Do not fear. Be thankful. And be welcomed into the joy of your master. Amen.

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Message for Nov 12, 2017

January 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Grace and peace…

I want to talk about the Epistle reading today from 1 Thessalonians. At this time of year on the church calendar, the readings all emphasize the end times. And that theme continues into Advent next month too, as we get ready not just to celebrate the first coming of our Lord Jesus in the flesh at Christmas, but look forward to His second coming in glory on the last day. Our second reading today from 1 Thessalonians gives us quite a few specifics about the end times that should inform our outlook on the world and our understanding of our Lord’s promises to His people. So today I want to work through this passage step by step, in a way that explains what the Bible says here and how Christians today really should interpret this reading.

Looking at vs 13, it reads, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” One of the reasons I’m doing the message this way is because Paul is so particular about these things in this section of his letter. “We want to make sure you understand these things.” In recent decades there has been a lot of emphasis on the last days and some of it is not really biblical. In college someone gave me a copy of Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth. That messed me up for a few years. And in recent years, the Left Behind series caused a number of questions. Those books seem to create a lot of fear about the second coming of our Lord. But the Bible doesn’t tell us about the Day of the Lord to create fear but to give believers comfort in the midst of the suffering and uncertainty they endure in the present. So today our emphasis is about what the Bible actually says and where the certainty of our faith really lies. The Bible ties our hope of the last day to the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning.

So first, Paul is making sure to correct misunderstandings in the church in Thessalonica about those followers of Jesus who have already died before Jesus’ return and address any concerns that the dead will miss out on the benefit of the Lord’s return on the Last Day. Believers should not grieve like pagans who don’t have the certainty of the resurrection to look forward to. Believers have but “fallen asleep.” Throughout the Bible, sleep is a common way of talking about those who have died. In the OT, “David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” (1 Kings 2:10) Jesus does it too. When he was talking to disciples about going to Bethany, He said, “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” (Jn 11:11) So “asleep” is a biblical way of talking about believers who have died. Now first, this is should be comforting because of a lifetime of experience of falling asleep means we will wake up again. And this promise stands with all those who fall asleep in the Lord. Second, we don’t have to get crazy and talk about soul sleep or anything to make sense of this passage. When Paul talks about death, he talks about being “with the Lord” not being in some state of unconsciousness. And remember that Paul is trying to speak to the issue of whether those who have died will witness and participate in the glorious return of Christ on the Last Day. When unbelievers die, other unbelievers are left with the dreadful uncertainty of what has happened to them and what will happen to themselves.

When Christians die, there should be no such uncertainty. They will be raised on the last day just as Jesus was raised in the body. To us, they are but asleep. But to them, they are already with the Lord. There are a few things that people say when loved ones die that are not just comforting but actually true. He or she “is better off than we are now.” When Jesus says to the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” He means to say that the man should not fear what happens the rest of the day; he will be better off soon. Jesus speaks and acts to make it so. The proof of Jesus’ power to break the chains of death comes on Easter morning. This is what Paul means by saying, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Interestingly, Paul doesn’t say Jesus fell asleep. He says, Jesus died. Now remember on the cross Jesus suffered the abandonment of the Father for the world’s sins. He died. Believers but “fall asleep.”

And to make sure the Thessalonians know this isn’t Paul riffing some thoughts of his own, he makes this known to them “by a word from the Lord.” Those who are still awake when the Lord comes again won’t be in any better position to witness the glory of the Lord’s coming than those who have already fallen asleep. God will bring us all to be where the Lord Jesus is.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” When Jesus raised Lazarus, it was with a loud shout into the mouth of the opened tomb, “Lazarus, come out.” The word of God is powerful and does what it says. The other places where this word “come” is spoken are pretty amazing. Jesus says to the rich young man, sell your stuff and come follow me. When the call of Abraham is recounted in Acts 7, we have the same word. “Go out from your land and from your kindred and come into the land that I will show you.’” (Acts 7:3) And just a few verses later is the same use with the call of Moses sent to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt, “And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’” (Acts 7:34) This is what the Lord does. With a word, with a shout of command, He speaks, and it is. And so it shall be on that day when He returns in glory.

So, “…the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” This is the main verse that many use to speak to a rapture of believers from earth to heaven. It comes from this verb, “caught up” which in Latin was “raptus”. But there are two reasons why this verse isn’t a proof text for the unbiblical teaching of the rapture. First, we are not meant to live in heaven forever. Humans are created, physical, “embodied” beings. We exist in time and space. Heaven is a place for spiritual beings outside time and space as we conceive it with latitude and longitude and such. Just as Adam and Eve lived perfectly with God in the garden, so we shall be again in a real embodied way in the new earth that comes on the Last Day. And secondly, the word used to describe “meeting” the Lord in the air, is used in many contexts to describe a delegation going out to meet a visiting dignitary. The idea is, some big shot comes to town and a delegation from the city goes out to meet him, they don’t stay in the intermediate place they meet him or return to the place he came from, they accompany him back into their own city where they benefit from him being there with them. This parallels what we know of the rest of the day of the Lord. When the Lord returns in glory, He returns to a new earth where the new Jerusalem has come down out of heaven and the Lord dwells together with all those who have been raised bodily from the dead and with all those whose bodies have been changed in the twinkling of an eye from corruptible to incorruptible. (1 Cor 15:52:53) There we will all be with the Lord.

I probably should also say that the idea of the rapture being a miraculous escape from all the suffering that will come at the end of the world is really discouraging to believers that are experiencing tribulation. It presumes that believers really shouldn’t have to suffer and that is not in harmony with the rest of Scripture where suffering brings us closer to Christ. And while there are a few obscure uses in the ancient church fathers, the rapture as it’s currently taught among many evangelicals can be traced back to the middle 1800s and really picked up speed at the beginning of the 20th century. It also presupposes that the Day of the Lord is somehow before the Last Day, which demands more than a few twists of logic in both the Old and New Testaments.

The apostle Paul takes great care to explain in words we can all understand today. And let’s let the Bible actually say what it says. The Bible does not say that when a believer dies, the body decomposes to nothing and the soul goes to heaven for eternity. No. When a believer dies, they are with the Lord. It is to us, as though they are asleep. The glimpse of heaven we saw last week showed them with palm branches in their hands praising God and that glimpse ended with the promise of God himself tenderly wiping every tear from their eyes. This week, Paul says, those who have died, who are already with the Lord now, will be raised bodily on the Last day and together with the rest of us who are still alive on that day and are changed in a flash into our glorious incorruptible resurrection, we will meet the Lord, escort him back into his holy city and dwell with him there for all eternity. All this he tells us with authority from the Lord Jesus. The reason we can be assured of all this, Paul says, is the resurrection of Jesus, of which we are all already assured. Just as He was raised so shall we be also. Amen.

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Message from All Saints’ Sunday, Nov 5

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

This is the audio from the message on All Saints’ Sunday.  Some found it particularly helpful and comforting.

The audio can be heard by clicking this link: Message for All Saints’.

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Message for Sep 24 — Not Fair but GREAT

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment

This was the massage I preached on Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16.

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