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Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

The Visit of the Peace of Christmas Past

The Visit of Peace of Christmas Past

Isaiah 11:6-10

†  I.H.S.

May the peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ bring you great peace, as you bring the Christmas message of Immanuel to the World!

Whose Christmas Past?

As Ebenezer Scrooge met the ghost of Christmas Past, he had one question.  He asked the shadowy ghost was whether it was there to talk about Christmas long past, or the Christmas of His past.

And as we look at the peace of Christmas past, that is still a good question, to begin with, are we talking about the peace of Christmas long past, or the peace of our Christmas past.

Some of you are saying, “What’s the difference!”

For tonight – we will answer the Lutheran way, that is, both the Christmas of long past and the Christmases of our past…

For Jesus brings peace to the past.

Was the Past that Peaceful?

Many need to bring to Jesus that peace to their past Christmas.

Maybe there were years when the world was at war, or maybe it was just their families that were divided and broken.  Maybe It was broken hearts that couldn’t understand how everyone else could be joyous and happy.  Maybe it was finances that challenged them, or addictions or their health or the health of those they love.

Many of us have some good memories, but also hard ones, and those steal away the peace, for the moment.

In Isaiah’s passage this evening, we heard a promise made to people that were challenged with many of the same challenges.  Many of them dealt with broken families, broken finances, broken by sin and shame, with heartache.  Which was  why peace seemed impossible, as impossible as natural enemies that would forgo the violence, and instead find peace with each other.

Such a passage would mean nothing special, if there was peace at the time.  For what division would be reconciled, what anger would be calmed, what relationships would need to be healed?  Isaiah’s promise revealed that this would happen….that they could wait for it

And that is promise in which God’s people trusted.  Because of that promise, and His Spirit confirming it, they could find peace in the mist of the chaos.  They could wait for the cross which was to come, they could wait for the point when all would be reconciled together in the death of Christ, just as we wait for the day when all is reconciled in His resurrection. They knew the brokenness that they endured in their society would fade.  God had promised it.

When our eyes are on God’s promise we can wait as well, Looking at the Christmas’s in our past, as we realize that the peace of God was with us, even in the middle of the fights, the anxiety, the frustrations and pain.  He sustained us in our Christmas past, just as He sustained them.

We could look forward because of the promise

Each visit of the ghosts taught Scrooge something, in Dicken’s parable, and as we look at the visit of the peace of Christmas Past, we realize that the peace we knew then is the peace that we know now, a peace that looks forward, trusting in God to do finish what He has completed in us.

A peace that enables us to look forward to the day when lambs and wolves relax together, and nothing hurts or destroys anymore, to the day where we live with Him will be a glorious place.

It is the peace that hope gives us that we are sustained in now, as Jesus keeps us safe in that peace.  AMEN!!

Blessed to Be in His Presence: Free from Blame and made Partners: An Advent Sermon on 1 Cor 1

church at communion 2We Are Blessed to Be in His Presence

Free from Blame and Made His Partners!

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

  I.H.S

 As the Apostle Paul desired for the Corinthians, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace!

 Thank God you belong to Jesus!

An observation I heard more times than I could count yesterday is one familiar.

“How do people get through this without Jesus?”

“How does the secular world deal with this?

And to be honest, I don’t know, but I have an answer to their problem, at the end of this message.

So when I got back to church yesterday, and I looked again at the passage, what caught my eye more than it did before was Paul giving thanks to God for his people and the grace He’s given, for they belong to Jesus.

And so memories of after the service came back, so many of your faces, resonating with these words of Paul.

I have to thank God that it the grace He has given so evident, as is that you belong to Jesus, you are His!  All of the words of comfort you offer each other confirms it, as we seemingly do it month after month, year after year.  The gospel I share with you from up here, or in the MPR, I get to see them lived out far more clearly, as the riches of God’s gifts is seen in you.
I don’t have to prove His presence is true, you know that, even if you are little hazy about all the details, we cannot deny that God carries us in times like these.

Look at what we do, this isn’t possibly without God’s work being true

I don’t know how often you think about Jesus coming back, never mind are eagerly waiting for His return.  Most of the time for me, it is a prayer of desperation, a prayer because I don’t know how we are going to cope any longer, or dare I say, how much more of a challenging life we can endure. 

That’s the same kind of feeling Isaiah had in the Old Testament, when he cried, Lord, just burst open the heavens and come down!!!!

We’re waiting Lord!  Just rip open those skies and get down here!

I mean what are you waiting for Lord?

We’re not the first people to struggle, and we aren’t the only people who think the struggle’s gone on long enough.  According to the Book of Revelation, even those in heaven, those who testified to God’s love cry out, “How long, O Holy and true Lord, how long until the suffering is dealt with?”  (Rev. 6:10)

God’s answer to them is rest a little longer, the number of your brothers and sisters aren’t complete.  Remember that please.  That the number isn’t complete….

The church is like Maxwell house….

So how do we endure all the suffering?  All the pain that sin causes in our lives?  If God won’t come and take us all home right now, how will we get past tomorrow?

How can we endure to the end?  How will we be strong and faithful from this moment until Christ returns?

While Jesus isn’t coming back for the final judgment yet, He promised that God would never abandon us, that He would never leave us alone.  Here he promises it again,

“He will keep you strong to the end,”

But it doesn’t end there, there is more , “so you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus returns”

Hear that guys?  All blame!  By guys I was talking to the men who are to blame for everything!  You know who you are!

Seriously, that promise is twofold.  The first is that God will personally sustain us, and keep us strong until Jesus returns.  The second is that we will be blameless – completely righteous, innocent of all sin, completely cleansed by God, our soul completely healed.

What we can’t do, He did already.  For our strength comes from our being untied to Jesus’ death and resurrection in our baptism, in God claiming us as His, for it is when we were united to Jesus that we became His, new creatures, that He fully cares for and sustains.

Because of Him we were sinners, and now we are forgiven, righteous, holy, and this is how Jesus will find us, the very work He did on the cross made it possible, and made it happen

Partnership with Christ – from His death till He comes again

So let me bring back up the idea of how people get through this life without knowing God.

It’s not supposed to be that way, and in fact, even as God planned for us to be blameless and holy, and strong to the last drop, he planned for those people who didn’t know His comfort.

Just as the Father sent Jesus to us, Jesus sends us to them.

You heard me right, that’s what the idea the Apostle is getting to, when he says, “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what He says, and he has invited you into partnership with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Our partnership, our communion, our fellowship with Jesus is so complete, we share in His vocation of Savior.  Not that we are crucified for their sins, but they hear about that incredible act of love, and the resurrection through us.  They hear of the love of God that will sustain us through this seemingly broken, shattered life.

And our words will confirm the work of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Him, as we share the hope we have.

They don’t have to go through this life without Christ, and certainly, we know that God doesn’t desire that they go through life without hope, and for that reason, He isn’t come back yet…

You and I are Jesus partners, have been since our baptism, and through us, through the gospel, we share with family and friends, they will know that God is with them as well…

And then on the days when they like us are broken and exhausted, or tire of crying, and dealing with the guilt and shame of sin, they will know the power and beauty and strength and peace found in these words,

The Lord, who loves you, is with you!

AMEN!

Called to Belong: Called to Be His Own! An Advent Sermon on Romans 1

nativityCalled to Belong: Called to Be His Own

Romans 1:1-7

† In Jesus Name †

What People Need?

There are a ton of articles circulating across pastor’s desks, as they have for the prior three generations.  When I was in college, they asked why my generation was leaving the church and provided great statistics on why people like me, the children of baby boomers, weren’t attending church.

I wondered about it a lot, as I had gone to a large youth group in high school, in fact, it was significantly bigger than any church I’ve belonged to, and really, was bigger than all the churches I’ve pastored since.

In the nineties and up to about 2004 or 2005, pastors, church planters, it seemed everything churches did were questioning why people of my age group weren’t in church, and trying to make churches attractive to them.

As if we are all the same.  As if our needs, our anxieties, our challenges, our doubts and fears were the same.

It has changed now, as churches seem to have lost focus on those in my age group – those once labeled genX.  GenX is history, the church “experts” no longer mention us. Now the concern is with the millennials, Marissa, Melissa’s, Kelcie’s age group.  A group that is two or even three generations removed from the days when youth filled every church, when complete families, three and four generations worth of family found themselves sitting together on Sunday morning.

And for the most part, the experts still treat whichever generation they mourn the absence of as if they are all alike.  They want to find the “one” thing that will draw them all, the one key element that will draw them to church,

And perhaps, there is the problem in the first place.

If all we deal with is generalizations, how can we assure the individual whether 25, 50, 78 or 91 that they matter, that they belong?

To be honest, that’s been a challenge, even for pastors I’ve know in my life. Can the individual know that they are important, that God has called them to belong, that He has called them to be His own?

Yet, God calls us, individually here, to be part of this family, and maybe we can learn from that

Why is this good news?

When scripture talks about good news, we need to understand why it was good.  As Paul is writing to Gentiles, we need to understand that this was one of the largest generalizations ever created.

It was everyone who wasn’t Jewish by birth, who couldn’t trace their ancestral tree back to Abraham, Issac and Jacob. A lot of folk.  Good folk, bad folk.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, smart, wise, silly. Older, younger, men and women, Some who wanted to find God to each out for help, others that simply wanted to mock God.  And few that would want to make money off of people, but saying only they knew the way to God.

The only thing they have in common, is that they didn’t belong.  Even someone adopted into a Jewish family didn’t quite make it, and those who were hyphens, those who were half Jewish and half something else, they were treated with less of a welcome.

We were all outsiders, stuck in the darkness, not worth the time for a Jewish Rabbi to share his wisdom, not allowed to hear the sweet words that God had accepted our sacrifice for our sin.  For that is why we became outsiders, our inability to love God with all we are, and our struggles to love others, including our enemies, as God has designed for us to live.  Because of that sin, we were outsiders, out in the cold and dark, possessed by our sin, oppressed by sin’s guilt and shame.

That is why the gospel is good news, For it smashes the demographic divisions, it grinds up generalizations, for what defines us is that we are wanted.

That God calls us to belong.

You.

Look at verse 6.  Let’s read it together

And you are called among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Though, he wrote this letter to an entire congregation, as you sin in the next verse, that “you” is singular.

You are called to belong to Jesus.

You are called to be a saint, one of God’s Holy People, whom He loves.

You are.  Singular.  Not because you are this age or that, because you have this heritage or that, no because except for this one.

God loves you.

And therefore you belong to Jesus.

He bought you at the cross, freeing you from the sin and hell which had power over you.

This is what Advent leads to, what Christmas and Easter, the manger and the cross.

That’s what has made the difference in every church I’ve been blessed to be a part of, we knew we belonged together, for we now we belonged to Christ.

I want you to hear those words one more time, what we need to hear, each of us in this room , and every person on this planet,

Matter of fact, maybe it will sink in deeper if we say it together,…

And I am included among those who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote this to me and all who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.

Amen!

 

More or Less – A Sermon on who we are during Advent

church at communion 2More or Less
Matthew 11:2-15

† Jesus, Son & Savior †

As we continue our journey through Advent, my you be blessed knowing that neither God’s grace, nor His presence will ever be far from you…

Some Concern

As we hear about John sending His disciples to ask Jesus if He is truly the Christ, the Messiah, the one Chosen and set apart to save humanity, there is both comfort and concern.

The comfort comes from knowing that John’s faith was challenged, even as my faith waivers now and then. Perhaps more often it is now rather than then.

It is not uncommon to know that feeling that leads to John sending out his people to ask.  Even though John knew in the womb that Jesus was the Messiah, even though John saw the Holy Spirit and Heard the Father’s voice when Jesus was baptized.  Even though we sing John’s song, the words he said the day after the baptism –

“There is the Lamb of God!  He who takes away the sins of the world!”

Now I can hear John crying out the words added to that liturgical hymn…. “Lord, grant me peace.”

That’s really what is behind his question about whether Jesus is the Messiah.  As John sits in the dark, dank jail cell, with breaks only to confront the man who is sinning, sleeping with his brother’s wife.

“Jesus, are you truly the Messiah or do I need to find peace somewhere else.”

It’s comforting to know I am not the only one to ask that… it’s concerning because if John’s faith couldn’t withstand the challenges of life,

how can mine…?

Compared to this greatest of the prophets, the man who testified about Jesus while in his mother’s womb…. Who are you and me?

And how can we have the faith to endure?
More Concern

As the gospel goes on, as we read the words St Matthew, the insignificance of my faith seems to multiply.

As John’s disciples leave, Jesus starts to praise John to the crowds.

John wasn’t weak and hollow like a willow reed.  He wasn’t spun around easily by life, or bent and broken by the storms.  He wasn’t a fashion plate, he wasn’t rich and famous, yet people flocked to hear him speak, which tells us he was not just a powerful speaker, he had a message that people needed to hear, and desired too, even if it was painful!

He was a prophet, and more than a prophet.

And people came to hear him, they couldn’t stop themselves.

Jesus says that as great as John was, and no who has ever been born is greater, he can’t be compared to the least in the kingdom of God.

Ouch.

What hope does that give us?

How do we compare to the prophets of prophets?

How can he who is so much more than us, and so much less than them… Hearing that, how do we know joy, on this third day of Advent?

Listening and Understanding

To understand this, we have to listen to Jesus,

He says, about John being the fulfillment of the promise of Elijah’s return, that those who have ears to hear should listen and understand.

Understand what?

That he is our Messiah. Just as He was John’s.

It’s the same answer, the answer to John, and the answer those who listen and hear.

Hear the answer to John again,

the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.*.’ ”

It took me a while to see it, but the answers are the same – and the challenge is seeing that Jesus is the Messiah.

Not just the He is here to save the world,

He is here to bring you and me, and every other broken person we know, into the Kingdom of God.

For those He heals and cleanses, the poor souls that hear the gospel, the good news, and cling to Him, they are the ones dwelling in the Kingdom of God.

They are those who are greater in faith than John the Baptist.  “They” includes you and me.

That’s you and me, for we depend on the promises of God, that He will never leave or forsake us, that He will let nothing divided us from His love.

You and I have been raised to life with Christ, we dwell with Him.

We dwell in God’s kingdom by His invitation, by His declaration.

So we are more, even as we see ourselves as less.

We need to know this, we need to count on the fact that we are children Of God.  We live in His kingdom, we can’t run from Him, because He abides within us.

He is here, he dwells with you, and though we can’t sustain our faith based on our observations, He sustains us anyway.  That is why He came.  That is why John/Elijah came and set up his ministry.

That is why Jesus points to his ministry, and the important prophecy about Elijah’s return, these all point to Jesus’ role as the Messiah.  They point to His role as the one God sends to restore His people, to give up His life, to redeem us from the bondage of sin, to make us pure and holy in the Father’s eyes.

As the Messiah – as He is lifted up on the cross, he draws us into the Kingdom of Heaven, we become its citizens, we become the children of the King.

We are there, secure in Him, our hearts, our souls, our faith, and trust sustained, even on the dark days, for it is about His strength, His power, His love…

Love that never fades…Love that provides peace, and comfort, and when we see Him providing that love,  we even know the joy that shatters the darkness. Love that we can see, through the word, as He reveals Himself in the sacrament, as He renews our spirits.

AMEN!

 

 

Loving God With All Your Soul – The Blessing of the Incarnation.

MarkJ AdventLoving God with All Your Soul– the Blessing of Incarnation

Isaiah 61:1-10

 † I.H.S. †

 May Jesus’s incarnation in your life be so real, so tangible that your love for Him grows with every breath you take!

 My eyes are dry…the broken soul

It seems that many people this year would describe themselves with one word.

Tired.

There may be some factors that cause us to be so weary, so many it seems like all we do is go from trial to trauma, from prayer request to prayer request.  And as we talked about hearts being broken and needing Christ’s healing presence last week, the song talks about another part of us that is just worn down.

Our souls.

The part of us, that inner part that provides our courage, our character, our desire and the holiness that we need to walk through life in love with God, and to love our neighbor.

As we look at loving God as He asks, with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, this one is hard.

When our soul is weary, when it is worn and broken, we hear the encouragement to love God, and we think about trying, and our soul cries out,

I’ve got nuthin.   Nuthin.

It’s that dryness that causes us to wonder why we pray, or if God is listening, or if He cares at all.  It is that dryness that causes us a spiritual exhaustion that robs us of hope, and leaves us thinking we still abide in the darkness.

He incarnation changes us… it dresses us.

Which is why we need to think about the incarnation, not just the incarnation when Mary is carrying Jesus in the womb, although contemplating that helps us contemplate His incarnation into our lives.

He came then, and angels sang.  They sing as well as Jesus draws us into Himself on the cross, taking all of our sins into Himself, and cleansing us of it. He takes that dryness as well, as we understand the cross, as we understand he is not distant.  He is here.

Isaiah’s second reading now makes sense –

I rejoice Heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul!

We are in Him, we abide in Him, and as we realize this, everything begins to change as well.

This is the joy we find in Advent, the restoration of our soul when we realize that Holy Spirit is there, despite our dryness, that He is here to comfort us, to restore us, to translate our prayers as Paul tells the church.

26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

See that?

So, even in those periods where we aren’t sure if God is listening, He is listening.  Hearing and responding to the deepest cries of our heart. Even when we don’t know what to say. Even when we are too dry to say anything.

He is with us, He is here, ministering to us, assuring us of His presence.  Using speed bumps to help us slow down, and know He is God, and He cares. As we realize this – so much happens, our souls come alive, as we realize His power saving us, as we are dressed in His righteousness, as He treats us as His beloved bride.  Our reaction, from the deepest part of our soul, is to love Him back… with all we are.

This is why our services include the Lord’s Supper, even before our eating dinner.

Because as we commune we stop and we find ourselves giving Him everything, our burdens, our anxieties, our fears, our sins, our dryness.  In his presence they actually fall off us, God removes them…as we stop and receive His blessed Body and Blood, given to us, His beloved, which strengthens our faith, helps us to depend on Him all the more, and dwell in peace.  AMEN!

 

Where One Finds Hope….

MarkJ AdventDevotional Thought of the Day:

30  And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31  For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32  And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33  Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34  Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. 1 Corinthians 15:30-34 (NLT)

Heaven, then, is none other than the certainty that God is great enough to have room even for us insignificant mortals. Nothing that we treasure or value will be destroyed. As we ponder all this, let us ask the Lord on this day to open our eyes ever more fully to it; to make us not only people of faith but also people of hope, who do not look to the past but rather build for today and tomorrow a world that is open to God. Let us ask him to make us who believe happy individuals who, amid the stress of daily living, catch a glimpse of the beauty of the world to come and who live, believe, and hope in this certainty. (1)

These days, from just after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve are called the season of Advent, the time where we wait for the second coming of Jesus, and eternity to be revealed.

It is a time of hope, of expectation.

Time we need, for many of us are experiencing a time of life that seems hard, and one without any form of hope.

Advent is not the answer to the hopelessness in and of itself. It simply seeks to remind us of the hope. It is a time where we go through, recognizing our need for hope, our need for something more, that this life is not all there is.

When we know there is something, we learn to wait for it, fully expectant in the promises of God. That hope gives us the ability to depend on God for the strength to endure.

For heaven is waiting, the place we can’t describe, yet what we know is enough.  For we will be with the one who loves us!  As Pope Benedict points out, this gives us a sense of happiness, a sense of joy, even amid the stress of daily living.

Which is why the Lord’s Supper is the ultimate moment in Advent.  It is that piercing the curtain between our mortality and our immortality.  The Body and Blood of Jesus, a feast that God our Father serves us, is the moment we find ourselves in His presence so clearly, so completely.  From that moment, as with our baptism, the hope of heaven is more than a dream, it is real, the presence of God quite tangible.

Which is the point of Advent, amid the stress of life, as it seems we are in the midst of darkness, affected by disease, division, depression and even death; it is then these extra moments, assuring us of God’s promises, and His faithfulness, are so needed.

This is life, as we don’t just walk with God, we let Him carry us… and safe in His arms, expecting a new day, we find peace.

(1)  Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Ready, Are We? A Sermon on life as We Await Jesus’ Return

MarkJ AdventReady, Are We?

Matthew 24:36-44

I.H.S.

 As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!

2 A.M. Somewhere….

Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,

16  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)

We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.

But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning?  That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.

And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy.  Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant.   Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.

And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.

Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.

So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.

First – Do you care?

The first is challenging, well, they both are.  But here is the first question:

Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?

Is it on your radar at all?  Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day?   Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?

Do we even think about Jesus coming back?

Think about that for a moment.

second – why?

if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.

Why do you want Him to return?

Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes?  I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.

Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives?  Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships.  ( Great line from Skorpion  – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)

Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?

When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?

That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.

And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.

Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.

Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world!  Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.

It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..

And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…

Ready, Are we?

 

SO then, the questions change a little….

How do we get ready for Jesus to return?

We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…

12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,

This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read

14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness.  As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.

And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.

Advent?  TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…

And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.

AMEN!

Are You Ready for….What are we getting ready for?

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:
37  “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38  In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39  People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Matthew 24:37-39 (NLT)

50 Just as God’s name is holy in itself and yet we pray that it may be holy among us, so also his kingdom comes of itself without our prayer and yet we pray that it may come to us. That is, we ask that it may prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom his name is hallowed and his kingdom flourishes.
51 What is the kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.

This word of promise and joy thus turns into a question for us, making visible the challenge and meaning of Advent. Only when all flesh beholds God is his coming complete; the new heavens and the new earth can come about only when available to all. This word constantly intends to open the heart of Christianity, indeed our own heart. Adveniat Kingdom tuum [thy Kingdom come]—this plea of Advent, put on our lips by the Lord himself, is prayed by us correctly only if we allow it to transform us; if we let it open us up to all of God’s children, all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

As many of us prepare for Christmas, for the parties, as we gather gifts, even as we get ready for the abundance of church services over the next week, we may hear the following question.

Are you ready?

We get nervous, for most of the time we are not ready, otherwise the concerned friend wouldn’t wouldn’t recognize the fear and anxiety that has gripped our very lives.

The problem is we are getting ready for the wrong thing.  We are, like one Ebenezer Scrooge, trying to deal with Christmas past and Christmas present, and not looking not to Christmas future, but the Advent of Christ in our future. We are like the people in Noah’s day, not always doing things outside of “normal” life, but not questioning what normal life should be. 

How many of us have given any thought to Christ’s return since Thanksgiving?  How many of us have seriously considered whether our lives are being focused on that time, of the Christ-mass – the gathering of Christ that will happen on that day.

We can’t run around to prepare for it.  We can’t check out all the stores; we can’t do anything special to prepare for His coming.  Matter of fact, if we are trying to do something special, we’re are even less prepared.  For being ready for Christ’s second coming isn’t a special event, it is life itself.  Life abiding in the presence of God.  Life being comforted and lifted up by the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Life as Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI, described so well in the green quote above.  A desire for God’s kingdom, His reign to come to all, a prayer of desire and desperation, a prayer born in brokenness.  Our individual brokenness, our communal brokenness. 

Luther agrees of course, as he notes that the reason Christ came was to bring us to the Father.  And the Holy Spirit is given to reveal this to us, and support us in the life that is until we see God face to glorious Face. 

When we consider the normal life in view of Jesus’ return, in view of death for those who are not here, we end up depending on God in a far different way.  Our life is transformed by the His love, as we look forward with expectation, as we look forward with joy, as we trust in Him, and we are filled with life.

This is why we ask are we ready.  Not to stress us more, but to cause us to be still, and know He is God, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, our life.

May your normal life find you not just ready, but desiring His return, and the homecoming that follows.  AMEN  †

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 426–427). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 399). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

3rd Week of Advent: He Gathers Us!

He Will Do All the Good Things He has promised!

He will gather   (JOY)

Zephaniah 3:14–20

† I.H.S. †

I pray that the mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so overwhelm you, that all you can do is rejoice as you think of His coming…even as God does!

How Can I….Know this Joy

A pastor once wrote,

Day by day we encounter the world of visible things. It assaults us through billboards, broadcasts, traffic, and all the activities of daily life, to such an enormous extent that we are tempted to assume there is nothing else but this[i]

Sometimes I feel like that, like all of world that I encounter wants to assault me, attack me, trample all over me.

I so understand those words, that we assume there is nothing else but this….

struggle.

And this week, when the darkness of the dark “blue” weeks of Advent are interrupted, as if a hint of a new day were peaking through, even as the darkness still threatens, we are encouraged to rejoice.  Not just look forward to the day of rejoicing… but to rejoice.

Now, today, even as we struggle with world events, with national and local problems; as we struggle with our finances, or families or maybe it is just our personal struggles, we are urged to sing and shout praises, to be glad and rejoice with everything in our hearts and minds and souls.  We are called to cheer up, and not be afraid.

Thank God that He gives us a reason too…

Are We?

The people that rejoice in the presence of God are described in the following ways,

Those who need to be calmed, for they are afraid and anxious,

Those who mourn as they consider the state of appointed festivals like Christmas, and how they have become less about God and His people.

The people who will rejoice are those who are oppressed, to those who are weak and helpless.

Those who were chased away, or exiled.

This is referring to those who were run out of the camp in the days of the Exodus, who were cut off from the people of God because of their sin, yet will be welcomed back and restored.

Those who were exiled because of their sin and shame, for they too will be drawn back by God and restored.

Yeah, those who will rejoice in Jesus’s coming will include those who are burdened by shame and guilt, but who will be called by a new name, who will be given a new name, whose life will be restored.  The prodigals who return, those crushed by their sin.  For that is what Jesus does, as He was lifted up on the cross.

Lifted there because Jesus wasn’t just called a friend to tax collectors and sinners, He is a friend to them.  And lifted up on the cross, the very image of God’s mercy and grace, He draws people to Him, as He desires.

Gather, for the Lord Will Live Among US

The pastor  quoted earlier, who talked about the world assaulting us, following those words with these,

One single soul, in Pascal’s beautiful words, (your soul) is worth more (to God) than the entire visible universe. But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.

There is the key to seeing where our joy comes from, in the midst of a world that will try to make life a living hell.

Realizing the worth of a single soul, your soul, to God.

And that is why we are gathered by God together.  For in this Old Testament prophecy, over and over it mentions this promise – six times! – the fact that God will gather His people together, that He will make things right, and twice more just so we understand, he explains that happens as God lives in the midst of His people.

God living among His people

God gathering His people together

God living among His people

23  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

The apostle John said it this way,

14  The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son. John 1:14 (TEV)

and

The hardest thing to get theologically is a concept known as “now, and not yet.”

Jesus has been lifted up, He has drawn us into Himself in His death, and in our baptism, bringing us into life everlasting. We celebrate now the feast that is the first taste of the feast to come. We can live free of the guilt and shame, free of what separated us from God.

We don’t see it yet, but we get glimpses of it.  As we gather, and as we do, our hearts should cry out His praises, for He is our Savior.  And I want you to hear one more “now and not yet

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Know this, like the prodigal’s father, our Father rejoices as we are gathered into His presence…  that is His love and mercy… AMEN!

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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