23rd Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a

1See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2aBut for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

Psalm: Psalm 98

1Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvelous things,
  whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.
2O Lord, you have made known your victory,
  you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations.
3You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands;
  lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
5Sing to the Lord with the harp,
  with the harp and the voice of song.
6With trumpets and the sound of the horn
  shout with joy before the king, the Lord.
7Let the sea roar, and all that fills it,
  the world and those who dwell therein.
8Let the rivers clap their hands,
  and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to judge the earth.
9The Lord will judge the world with righteousness
  and the peoples with equity.

Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

6Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  How is preparing for Christmas different from preparing for surgery or senior years?  Share with a neighbor some of your thoughts.  

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON:  So…

So here we are almost to the end of Pentecost. It’s the Sunday after All Saints Sunday and the Sunday before Christ the King Sunday that signals the start of Advent.  We are coming to the climax.  Today our text talks about End Times and next Sunday we hear about Christ’s victory over Death.  That Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving, welcome the Advent season and gear up for Christmas.  Whew!!!  Pre-Black Friday sales are already being announced.  Let’s take a deep breath today before all the intensity begins and reflect on our Pentecost journey.

So…we live in two kingdoms that are very different.

Jesus and the disciples have reached Jerusalem putting the text as part of Passion week. Jesus is preparing for the cross.  In the presence of the beauty of the Temple that the disciples admire, Jesus warns them not to be deceived.  The symbols of faith that belong to this world will all disappear but not faith that opens the way to the Kingdom of God.  It is so easy to forget that we have one foot in the kingdom of this world and one foot in the kingdom of God. 

         The Temple is so glorious and beautiful, our God so wonderful that somehow we forget that faith does not release us from the trials of life and the inevitability of death.  The Temple is so beautiful that surely if we had enough faith, God would move mountains and help us miss the landmines of life.  Sometimes he does but often I hear that little voice spreading doubt.  Do you hear the little voice whispering in your ear that “if only God would answer a prayer” we could be healed, get a job, not loose a husband, beat cancer…just pray and believe.  “Keep the faith, baby!”  It is so tempting to believe the beautiful Temple, a structure of faith, can be equated with a wonderful life in this world.

         As the disciples admire the Temple and all it represented to them, Jesus shatters their revelry with the announcement that in the not too distant future, the Temple would be destroyed.  In 90 AD in fact, Jerusalem would be destroyed.  The disciples believe and don’t doubt.  They don’t ask “why” or “how” but just ask “when will this happen.”  Jesus gives them some signs.

         People claiming to represent God will try to lead us astray.  They  will deceive themselves and possibly us into thinking they speak for God.  The truth of any preacher is not the charisma, the popularity, or the education.  We are responsible to know the Scriptures so we can differentiate between the fake and the real. We can read the signs of the time.  There are two kingdoms and the Holy Spirit, God, through Scripture and prayer guides us to truth, not health, wealth and prosperity.  False preachers will try to focus our eyes on this world and try to manipulate us spiritually.

         Global chaos politically and environmentally will be another sign.  Of course the problem is that there seems to be political power struggles in all ages and each age thinks it is end times. It is easy to become numb to these warnings and sleep during sermons that speak to the end of the kingdom of this world.

         False preachers, confusing political and environmental signs and persecution mark the end. Jesus tells us there will be persecution for our faith.  Many of us in the West are shielded from these predictions by our wealth but for many in our world persecution is a reality of faith.  I doubt we are not tempted, but often the temptation is so subtle we don’t recognize it.  The temptation to compromise just a little is always with us.  Our culture shifts our focus to a God of love and we forget that God is just also.  We confuse God with Santa Claus.  My wants may not be God’s will.  

         Human wants often lead to wars and rumors of wars that plague every generation.  Mass communication makes us more informed now but does not seem to eliminate wars, rumors of wars, political misunderstanding and power struggles that have marked every generation.  The kingdom of this world is fraught with problems, conflict and tensions.  When we have problems, it is not because God is busy in Ukraine or has forgotten us.  It because we still live in the kingdom of this world.  The Temple will be destroyed but faith, not the Temple, will mark the kingdom of God.

So…how do we prepare?

         The Pentecost readings have led to the inevitable conclusion.  The two kingdoms will one day give way to the Kingdom of God.  Meanwhile, Jesus tells us not to be terrified because all these trials do not mean that God is out of control but neither will he manipulate us into following him.  We are not drones.  He knows the time and the hour and so we are not to be terrified for his hand is protecting us and mediating the evil that would seek to destroy us.  The end of Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, ends with the list of horrible deaths believers faced in the name of faith.  “The world was not worthy of them. (v38)”  Hebrews confirms the two kingdoms when the author continues,

         “39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 

4 0 since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.”

         Sufferings and persecution provide a platform for testimony to our faith.  “Platform” is a big word these days.  Women might remember platform soles on their shoes to make them just that little bit higher and more visible.  We might think of the platform at the train station where you wait for the train to pull up so you can board.  This week we might have thought of the political platforms or beliefs the different candidates represented.  But I am thinking of our young adults who might define platform as: “a group of technologies, solutions, or offerings that form an iterative basis for developing, implementing or deploying other offerings. In many ways, a platform is just like a construction foundation — many different buildings could be constructed using the same foundation.” 

         YouTube and Netflix are different platforms for presenting films.  Gmail and other carriers are different email platforms.  Sufferings are different platforms that provide us opportunities to live out our faith in a way others can see. Disease is another platform for living out our faith. The war for the Ukrainians has given voice to their faith.  Sermons are not the only platform God uses to share his glory.  Hence we cannot know and prepare in advance some speech for we do not know which platform we will be speaking from.  Jesus tells us, “14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  Do not be terrified.  Trust!

         False preachers, political and environmental chaos and persecutions are not about us.  God is not targeting us for some unrecognized sin but providing a platform that helps us gauge the times and clarifies the kingdom of this world that is passing, from the kingdom of God that is eternal.  There is a purpose to the events of our life that God is walking through with us.

So… endure

18But not a hair of your head will perish. 

19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

The NIV translates that last line, “Stand firm, and you will win life.”

I like the Message that shares, “Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”  Wow, that sounds to me like “grace” and not “law” at the end of time.  Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple, the outward symbol of their faith will be destroyed but all the hairs of their heads and their lives will gain eternity by their steadfastness.

         We end Pentecost being reminded yet again that faith is not about us, perfecting ourselves through faith for an angry God, but accepting and receiving the warm embrace of a God who wants our love. 

  • Endurance of relationship means that we stand firm in that identity.  Being a Christian is not just a Sunday event. 
  • Endurance implies that we grow in relationship to God and his people.  Being a Christian is not a one-time experience at a rally or baptism.  God has provided Scripture, nature, music, and fellowship to get to know him better through his creations. 
  • Endurance is naming and claiming our truth when facing family, friends and culture that ridicule our alliance to God.  Christianity is not about the easy life but it is about a good life journeying to eternity.

 Lord, help us prepare and look forward to being with you eternally.

Let the people of God say “Amen.”

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