Tag Archives: second coming

Enriched in Every Way – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Advent 1B

When Bruce and I lived in Kansas City, we developed a holiday tradition that we loved. On a Saturday between Christmas and Epiphany, we held a party for all of our musician friends. We invited them to bring their holiday leftovers, and all the music they had missed playing or singing for the last month because they were too busy performing Messiah and Nutcracker. Serious music was welcome, but not required. Concert Black dress was strictly prohibited. We called it “The Little Jimmy Dickens Society for the Preservation of the Rebek, Sackbutt, and Other Instruments of Torture.”

We had a lot of fun. Our dining room table was crowded with food, and our living room was filled with music. But not all those who attended the Little Jimmy Dickens Society were musicians. Spouses and significant others came along, and sometimes they would join in the fun with non-musical performances. Continue reading

Keep Awake – Sermon on Matthew 24:36-44 – Advent 1, 2013

When my older brother, David, first moved out of the house and was living on his own, we looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, in the hope that he would come home for a day or two, and our family would be together for the holiday. To understand how much this meant to us, you need to have a little background. My brother is the eldest child in our family. He is my only brother. We four girls have always adored him. As a young, single adult, David enjoyed driving the latest, fanciest car he could afford. I remember well his first Corvette, a white 1959 model with a removable hard top. Then he moved up to a midnight blue 1963 Stingray with the fiberglass body and the headlamps that rotated out of sight when not in use. By 1972, he was driving a Porsche. So, whenever David came home to visit, part of the excitement was discovering what he was driving, and arguing over who would get the first ride in his new car.

But the real excitement came with trying to figure out just when David would arrive. You see, David liked to play tricks on our mom. He would call a day or two before we expected him, and sadly explain that he just couldn’t come this year. He was really sorry, and he wished he could get away, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Then, he’d pull into the driveway the next day, and we’d run out to meet him with shrieks and squeals, our disappointment turned to instant joy.

One year, he called on Christmas Eve, and mom started the conversation with, “Don’t tell me you can’t come home for Christmas!” He assured her that he would be there, but he was still about an eight-hour drive away. Five minutes later, he was walking in the door. He had called from a gas station less than eight blocks away.

One of the reasons this ruse worked so many times, however, was that sometimes, David really didn’t show up. Some years, he didn’t even call. So we never knew. Is he coming this year, or not?  And if he comes, when will he arrive?  We just never knew.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard Luke’s take on a conversation between Jesus and his disciples, as they asked him “When will these things happen?  What will be the sign that the end is near?”  As we begin a new church year with this, the first Sunday in Advent, we move from Luke’s gospel to Matthew’s, and his version of the story asks the same question. How will we know, Lord?  What will be the sign?  When will your Kingdom arrive?  Jesus answers that we must stay alert, because we just never know when the Lord will return.

Hear the Word of the Lord, as given to us in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 36-44.

 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

In music, we call the form this passage takes a “rondo” – the main theme keeps coming around again. There may be other ideas tucked in between repetitions, but the main theme keeps coming back over and over. It becomes very familiar. You’ve probably figured out by now that the main theme in this passage is:

No one knows when the Son of Man will come again.

It must have been difficult for the disciples to understand that even Jesus didn’t know when the second coming would take place. They knew that Jesus was certainly the Messiah, the Christ that God had promised to redeem Israel. They had seen God’s power working through Jesus as he healed and performed miracles before their very eyes. They had just begun to grasp what it meant to be following the Son of God, and they believed with their whole hearts that Jesus could do absolutely anything. So, why couldn’t he tell them when the end would come?  How could he possibly not know?

Jesus tells them that the day and the hour cannot be known, but there will certainly be signs that point to the time as it draws near. For example:

Just as in Noah’s time, people were carrying on their daily business and were surprised by the flood, so the coming of the Son of Man will be a sudden surprise.

The reference to Noah hints at the work of God in the baptismal waters we have just witnessed today, as we baptized Savannah Leigh into the family of God. The same water that held up the ark, saving Noah and his family, also destroyed those who were unprepared for the disaster of the flood. Remember that Noah had been building that ark for many years when the flood finally came. Though he had been faithfully telling them to get ready for it, people ignored him. Then the floods came, and there was no time for the people of Noah’s day to change their minds, to repent and turn to God. As they went about their daily business, they failed to notice that the ark was getting finished, that the animals were gathering two by two, that dark rain clouds were forming in the sky. The signs were all there, but the people didn’t see them. They weren’t prepared.

No one can know the day or the hour, but there will certainly be signs that point to the time of Christ’s coming as it draws near. For example:

Whether working in the field or the kitchen, those who belong to Christ will be separated from those who do not, and there will be no time to change camps then.

Just as the people in Noah’s time carried out their daily routines, so people will be going about their regular tasks when the Son of Man comes. Jesus gives examples of men working in fields and women grinding grain, so we know there is no gender advantage at play here. We will all be about our daily work when the time comes.

A lot of attention in this passage has been given to “one taken and the other left” but we must be careful about how we interpret this example. I don’t think Jesus meant that exactly half of the world would be saved, and half of the people would perish. I also don’t think that the “Left Behind” series of books and movies, with their focus on a “rapture” of believers and a frightening portrayal of life on earth after that event, did much to help us understand the point Jesus is trying to make. We must recognize that Jesus is speaking, once again, in parables, to help his listeners understand a deeper truth about the coming of the Son of Man. The point is not to speculate about a final day of judgment some time in the future, “but to confront us with God’s radical claim on us here and now. Each day is a day of judgment, so I should always be asking myself, “Am I living in the way of Christ?  Am I trusting in him alone?”[1]

Whatever you are doing when the time comes, you won’t have a chance to change your mind about Jesus then. It will be sudden, and it will be final. Since we have no idea when it will occur, we need to start living our lives right now for the possibility of that moment. We need to make sure that the daily tasks we are performing when Christ comes again are the sort of tasks that will prepare us for that time. As we work our fields and grind our grain, we need to be doing it as faithful followers of Jesus who are eager for him to come again. As we go about our daily routines, those routines should reflect our hunger for God, and our desire for his Kingdom to come in its fullness.

Jesus warns us to be alert and faithful, so that we will be ready when it happens, because – here comes that main theme again – “you don’t know when that day will be.”

In case we still haven’t understood the message, Jesus gives one more example:

Just as a person’s constant vigilance protects his home from a break-in, you must be vigilant, for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected time.

While the homeowner’s vigilance may be born out of fear of being robbed, our vigilance is more like a young couple expecting their first child. They don’t know exactly when their lives are going to abruptly change, but they look forward with joy, watching with care as they prepare the nursery. Even when the house is ready to welcome the new baby, they wait in anticipation of those first labor pangs, the sign that birth is about to begin.

So, how do we get prepared?  How do we stay awake?  How do we watch for the Lord to come again?

We go about our daily work, filled with expectation. We do not live in anxiety, afraid of being left behind, but we live in a state of joyful preparation, as we anticipate Christ’s coming. We do not wait passively, but we are actively engaged in the work of the Kingdom, our hearts and lives reconciled to God, living out our faith in expectant hope. We trust in the future, not controlling or even knowing the details of what is yet to come, because all our hope is founded in God alone. Just as the lesson from Romans 13, which we heard earlier today, describes:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:11-14

We are expectant and hopeful – this first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of hope, after all. We live into the hope that God will keep his promise, just as God has always kept his promise. We develop the art of watchful living, as we faithfully pursue the purpose to which God has called us here and now. It is from this here and this now that we remember the history of God’s promises kept, even as we look ahead toward the time beyond time, when Christ will come again in glory and all things will be made new.

In the meantime, we are being made new. Hope is bubbling up here at 1st UMC. We are beginning to find a renewed hope that God has something in mind for us. We must live into that hope, as we look expectantly for what that something might be.

We need to stay alert, hoping and faithfully living into the future of God’s kingdom. We must be ready, prepared to meet Christ when he comes, because we don’t know when that will be. Jesus tells us three times in this passage that the burning question isn’t “when?” but rather, “are you ready?”

Are you ready to let him change you into a new person?  Are you ready to give up quarreling and jealousy, greed and anger, gratifying your own desires?  Are you ready to give up the habits that keep you from living a life that is rich and full of hope and promise?  Are you ready to give up everything that keeps you from giving your life to Jesus?  Are you ready to do that every day, and every hour of every day?  If not, if you aren’t ready to turn over your life to Christ, what’s keeping you from it?  I invite you to examine your heart, and to surrender to God anything that is causing you to live in fear instead of hope.

Because this is the good news, people! God loves us so much, he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes on him will not perish, but will have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Eternal life isn’t something you have to wait for. It doesn’t start the instant you die, or when Christ comes again, whatever day and hour that might be. Eternal, abundant life can begin right now, right here.

For “you know what time it is,” the Apostle Paul writes, “how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we [first believed]; the night is far gone, the day is near.”

No one knows when Christ will come again, but he’s coming. We can wait in fear. We can ignore the signs that tell us the time is near. Or we can wait, faithfully prepared and expectantly ready, living into the hope that God will, once again, keep his promise. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  Amen.


[1] John P Burgess, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 24.

Keep Asking – sermon on Luke 18:1-8

The scattered groups of believers were becoming discouraged. They had expected Jesus to return quickly, but – so far – he hadn’t shown up. The original twelve disciples were dying off, and even the second generation of followers were getting old. Persecution had taken its toll, too. It seemed that everything Jesus had predicted had happened, and the second coming of Christ should have followed soon after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. But here they were, still waiting and watching for Jesus to come again in glory. The stories that had been told with such urgency a generation ago, were now losing their shine. Some of the details were getting fuzzy. And still, Jesus did not come.

Had they missed it somehow? Had they misunderstood? Surely they had heard him announce that there would be persecution, and they had suffered through that terrible experience. As the church had spread from Jerusalem to Antioch, and from there along the Mediterranean coast, the people who now called themselves Christians had struggled to maintain an identity that contrasted strongly with the culture around them. Sometimes it got pretty confusing. As the number of disciples who had seen Jesus and heard him teach continued to dwindle, many were discouraged that Jesus would ever return as he had promised.

In the middle of this confusion and discouragement, Luke set out to tell the whole story of the Good News, to refresh everyone’s memory, and put events into their proper perspective. He addressed a primarily Gentile audience, drawing on the stories that had been told over and over again, arranging them in an order that was designed to encourage believers to keep on believing. Luke wrote down the facts he knew, and used his best editing skills to help Christians understand those facts in the light of God’s timeline. The Kingdom of God that had been introduced to the world in the person of Jesus Christ was already at work, but not yet fulfilled. Luke wanted his readers to know that Jesus had not broken his promise to return, but that waiting for the second coming required more than sitting around in an upper room. It meant actively participating in the work of the Kingdom.In today’s passage, Luke explains a parable of Jesus before sharing the parable itself. He only does this two other times. We will look at one of these next week, when we read about the Pharisee and the tax collector, and the other is the story of the Ten Talents. But the explanation Luke gives helps to focus our attention on the importance of staying persistently connected to God. Hear the Word of the Lord, as given to us in the Gospel according to Luke, in the 18th chapter, verses 1-8.

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let’s start at the end of this passage, and work our way backward. The question Jesus asks at the conclusion of the story gives us a perspective for understanding it that we might not see if we are in a hurry to read on to the next passage. So let’s look backward first, to reflect on the story of the persistent widow and the unjust judge from the framework this question gives us.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Jesus started this particular teaching back in Chapter 17, verse 20, when the Pharisees asked him when the Kingdom of God was coming. He tells them, “ “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is amongyou.”[1] Jesus often closed his teaching speeches with parables, so the story about the unjust judge and the persistent widow serves as the final close to this longer lecture about the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth. That final question makes sense, in light of this bigger picture, doesn’t it?

The Pharisees had asked “when?” but Jesus answers that how we wait is much more important than knowing the exact moment. So he throws this question back at the Pharisees: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? In other words, will we be faithful to the end? This is the crux of the matter – will Christ find faithfulness, trustworthiness among his people when he comes again, whenever that may be?

Let’s go back a step further. Before Jesus asks if we will be faithful, he assures us that God can always be trusted. God is faithful. Jesus says, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”[2]

Do you notice how Luke reminds us, through the words of Jesus, of this tension the first century Christians were feeling, the tension between the expected suddenness of Christ’s second coming, and the perceived delay of that event? God will not put off helping his people. But God does not operate on our timeline – we exist on his. As Peter would write to another group of early Christians, “do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 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.”[3]

We, today, should also be encouraged, that God will give justice. God will make right the things that are wrong. God will surely heal what is broken. But God’s patience should not be seen as procrastination. God is showing mercy, giving us time to turn to him and seek forgiveness, to ask him to make us whole.

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 Recent headlines might make you wonder if it’s possible. There is plenty that is wrong and broken in our world, today as much as it was over 2000 years ago. Justice sometimes seems like a dream more than a possible reality. We see disappointment and pain every day, as people are murdered, others go without food or adequate shelter, leaders turn out to be corrupt, governments stop functioning, and self-serving greed has a higher social value than generosity toward others.

The unjust judge of this parable would fit right into today’s culture: he doesn’t fear God, and he has no respect for people. He models the exact opposite of the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor. I can think of a few people in the news who sound just like this judge, and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for you to make a list, either.

The judge only gives justice to get rid of the widow’s annoyance, not because he cares about right and wrong. “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice,” he says, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” What the New Revised Standard Version gives us as “wear me out” other translations offer as “shame me.” Quite literally, however, we could translate this phrase to read “so she won’t slap me in the face,” or “so she won’t give me a black eye.” I don’t think the judge is too worried about a poor widow assaulting him. No, the judge wants to avoid being embarrassed – or shamed – by the widow’s constant badgering. And it is that very badgering, the continual showing up on his doorstep to ask for justice, that finally allows the widow to win over the unethical judge.

Let’s take a look at that widow. Jesus says, “In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’” We don’t know who the opponent is, or what problem the widow has with the opponent. We only know that she is seeking justice. And she has her speech down to six words. Persistently, day after day, this woman kept coming to the judge, saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” What else could she do? This judge is her only hope.

You see, most women were very young, barely teenagers, when they married, so the possibility of outliving their husbands was a very strong one. There were many widows, but they weren’t necessarily old women. The problem was that they often had no means of support when their husbands died, especially if they had no sons to take responsibility for them and care for them. They did not inherit their husband’s estate – it went to another male member of the family. If a widow stayed with her husband’s family, she became little more than a servant in the household. If she went back to her own family, the bride price had to be paid back to the husband’s family. Many times, widows were sold as slaves to pay off their husband’s debts.

With all this in mind, it’s a wonder this widow even tried to seek justice. Yet here she is, day after day, relentlessly asking an unjust judge to give her justice against her opponent. “How much more will God give justice to those who ask him?” Jesus seems to be saying. If a crooked judge can be convinced to do what is right, even if it’s for the wrong reasons, how much more will God show mercy to those he loves?

And now we are back at the beginning, with the reason Luke gives us for this parable of Jesus: “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Many times, I think, we focus on the first part of that explanation, and ignore the last part. Jesus was not only teaching the disciples the importance of prayer, he was encouraging them to not lose heart. Jesus knew what they would each have to face after he was gone, and he wanted to be sure they were prepared for what was to come. Luke uses these words of Jesus to remind his readers, decades later, that they should also not lose heart as they wait for Christ to come again. And he wrote them down so that other believers, centuries later, would also be encouraged.

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Certainly Luke spends a lot of ink describing the importance of prayer. Jesus holds up this persistent widow as a model for effective prayer, but he isn’t talking about mindlessly repeating the same prayers over and over again. We’ll talk more about that next week. The persistence in prayer Jesus asks of us is a faithful pursuit of God’s justice in the world. This widow’s six-word prayer was new and fresh each time she said it. She might have used the same words over and over, but she meant each one of them every single time, with the same intensity and focus she used from the beginning of her campaign. Can we pray like that? Of course.

Praying is nothing more or less than pouring out our hearts to God, who will always be faithful to hear us. It means trusting in God, and not in ourselves. It means constantly hoping for the time when God will make things right, convinced that God’s justice will prevail over evil. Just as the widow kept coming to the judge, determined, relentless, hoping against all odds; so we are to keep praying, determined, relentless, hoping against all odds. Not because we are “good Christians” or because our faith is strong, but because God’s Holy Spirit has given us the courage to pray without ceasing in a broken and scary world, that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will shall be done. If we are to be found faithful when the Son of Man comes, we must keep praying, and not lose heart.

And what is it that we should pray for? The widow gets it right. Our prayers must be for justice. Not our petty desires or what we think we need – for God already knows what we need before we ask, and many times what God knows we need and what we think we need are not at all the same thing. We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. We must not lose heart or become weary with waiting for Christ to come again to deliver us, once and for all, from the pain and brokenness we see all around us. We must persist in hope, persist in prayer, and persist in seeking justice until the Lord comes.

Christ’s coming may yet be in the future, but God’s patience is at work in the present. The parable assures us that God will save his people. The concern is not when this will happen, but its certainty, and the necessity for us to live in readiness and faithfulness.

Will Jesus come again, as he promised? Absolutely. Will God bring justice to the world? Without a doubt. Will we be faithful until that time, pursuing justice and working for the Kingdom of God? If we pray constantly, relentlessly, persistently for God to do his mighty work among us, may it be so!

So here’s the challenge. I’ve offered it to you before, and a few of you accepted the invitation to pray with me on Compassion Sunday. In the letter from James, we read, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”[4] And Jesus said, “ For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”[5] Many of you have experienced the power of prayer in your lives. I have heard stories of people in this church coming together regularly to pray, and the way God answered those prayers. Can you think of a time in our history when we needed prayer more than we do now? The needs I see in this town are so great, and there is so little help available to meet those needs. People struggle to make ends meet, to battle addiction, to find purpose and meaning in their lives. The greatest need I see is for Jesus to be Lord, for God’s love to be made known to people who have never experienced it. Isn’t that something worth praying for? Isn’t that something worth praying together for? I know that many of you are already overcommitted to many meetings, and frankly, I don’t know where we would put a weekly prayer gathering on the calendar, but if God is nudging you right now to be part of a vital, ongoing prayer ministry in this church, would you please look at your calendar with God, and find a time you could agree to meet him here, along with others from this church, to join in prayer? There is so much to pray for.

  • Healing
  • Jobs
  • Broken relationships
  • Freedom from worry
  • Our children
  • Our leaders
  • The ministry of this church
  • Our stewardship campaign, Planting Seeds of Faith
  • People in our community who don’t know Jesus
  • People in our community who have given up hope
  • People in our community
  • Justice
  • God’s kingdom to come
  • God’s will to be done

Let us pray.

 

 

 

 


[1] Luke 17:20-21

[2] Luke 18:7-8a

[3] 2 Peter 3:8-9, quoting Psalm 90:4

[4] James 5:16

[5] Matthew 18:20