Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sermon Delivered November 13, 2011: Getting Ready for Jesus' Return

I’d actually like to begin my sermon this morning by reading some of Jesus prophesies about the end of the world. If you would like to follow along, please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 24 beginning in verse 3. It’s found on page ___ in the New Testament section of that little red book in your pews. Here’s what Jesus says:

3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" 4Jesus answered them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs. 9"Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Now, Jesus does say a few more things, but I’m going to stop right here because just recently I’ve been asked about all the stuff going on in the world. Certainly, there have been more than a few earthquakes that have grabbed our attention. It seems like they have been more and more numerous lately. Even the state of Texas and our neighbor Oklahoma have experienced earthquakes–a very, very rare thing.

There is also much to be said about political unrest throughout the world. Rumors are swirling right now about Israel and Iran particularly since a group has said that some of the testing Iran is doing right now could only be in building nuclear weapons. Tensions are high with the rumors of war and that Israel will strike unilaterally to protect itself. Not only is this military situation rattling things around, but the global economy is still on shaky ground. For the moment, the Greek currency issue seems to be settled; however all eyes are now turning to Italy which seems to be in just as bad or worse shape than Greece. The stock market even took a major tumble mid-week over fears in that area of the world.

Unfortunately, it’s been shoved into the background of stories, but there is a major famine because of drought in Africa right now as well. The La Nina weather pattern has not only affected us with little rainfall, it has majorly affected them as well. Fortunately for us, many here have branched out into other areas besides farming and ranching and have survived the loss of herds and crops. Not so in Africa. When crops there fail, people starve. And that’s exactly what is happening now. Furthermore, other weather phenomena have grabbed our attentions. Spring thunderstorms produced major outbreaks of tornadoes which destroyed large portions of towns and cities in the eastern part of the U.S. A giant winter storm, one of historical proportions hit Alaska just the other day.

And it could be argued that in our midst, we have many false prophets trying to lead us astray. In a world full of relativity and a lack of understood and agreed upon truth, just about anything goes. If you don’t agree with something I say in a sermon, you can either turn on the television or click a few times on the internet and find someone who agrees just like you do and who offers all sorts of proof why I am wrong and they are right.
And just for truth’s sake, I do the same thing to those I disagree with. The real question is, which of us is indeed telling the truth and which of us is trying to lead you astray? Just to set the record straight: I am never trying to intentionally lead you astray. It is my purpose to point you toward Jesus and see that you have a personal, life-changing meeting with Him.

But that’s a personal note. What isn’t so personal is all the stuff that is happening around us. Lots of stuff is going on, and when we look at all of it there are some striking similarities between these things and what Jesus talks about here in the book of Matthew. And, of course, when we look at the similarities some folks begin wondering: is this it? Is this the beginning of the birth pangs? Is Jesus getting ready to return?

Well, maybe. But in reality, we just don’t know. I mean, read through the rest of Matthew and Mark and Luke and you will find that we don’t exactly know when Jesus is returning. Despite what Harold Camping and other fortune tellers who have set the exact date of when Jesus will return tell us, the Bible gives us no firm time table for the end of days. Furthermore, I’d also state that there have always been earthquakes.
There has always been political upheaval. There has always been economic turmoil. There have always been severe weather phenomena. We just have the capability of having it broadcast into our homes and on our computers 24 hours a day and seven days a week. So, maybe what is going on is just what has always gone on, but we just have more access to it.

But! But what if these indeed are the beginning of the birth pangs Jesus spoke of? What if this is a foretaste of the events that will hearken the return of Jesus? What are we called to do in this situation?

Well, hopefully, as good Lutheran Christians, you follow in the footsteps of the founder of our particular branch of Christianity. Hopefully, you realize there is no need to panic. There is no need to sell off all your possessions. There is no need to clothe yourself in a white robe, find the nearest hill, and sing Kum By Yah. As people who believe we are saved by grace through faith, we are already prepared for the return of Jesus.
Our salvation is secure because the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts and sanctified and preserved us in the true faith. God’s grace is sufficient for us, and we can continue on with our daily lives as we live out our callings each and every day.

Paul echoes these sentiments in our second lesson today from the book of 1 Thessalonians. He says, " 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him."

Those last two verses are such beautiful passages. "For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with Him." This is the promise we can hold onto even in the midst of all the things happening in the world. Our salvation is secure, so we have no need to worry.

But, please take a moment to see where our second lesson ends today, because not only does Paul comfort us with the knowledge that we are indeed safe and secure in our salvation, he also gives us instructions in what we are called to do in the mean time.

Paul says, "Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing." Ah, what a difficult thing to follow. For how easy is it for us to build up each other? How easy is it for us to strive to strengthen one another? Isn’t it much easier to complain? Isn’t it much easier to point our fingers and talk about how someone is or isn’t doing what is right, isn’t taking responsibility, isn’t caring, or giving, or following what the Bible says? Of course it is. It’s much easier to do such things and point out another’s faults. But what if one’s faults were diminished over time by helping that person build up his or her strengths? What if in encouraging one another and building one another up, we actually overcome our weaknesses? What if by encouraging one another and building up one another, we become less and less affected by the nastiness that goes on around us and we become closer and closer to the One who made us and who will save us? What if Christians around the world started focusing more on building one another up instead of tearing one another down? Do you think it might help everyone be prepared for Christ’s return? Amen.

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