Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: Stand Up! Raise Your Heads!

I remember the last time I had a conversation with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was when Dawna and I were still living in Seguin. I was home on my lunch break when our doorbell rang. I answered. Two women stood there holding some magazines.

"Hello," one of the women spoke. "I’d like to give you this. It talks about the day when Jesus comes back and how horrible it’s going to be."

Before accepting the materials, I responded, "Oh, no ma’am, it’s not going to be horrible at all. Jesus is going to come and make everything right. He’s going to raise up all of those who believe in Him. The world will be restored. It’s not going to be a terrible day–it will be a glorious day."

The lady looked at me with those deer in the headlight eyes. I could tell she didn’t know what to say. After about 30 seconds, she simply said as she handed the materials to me, "O.K. Thank you. Have a nice day."
You know, those Jehovah’s Witnesses never knocked on our door again? They were around. I found their magazines on my porch time and again, but they never, ever knocked or rang the doorbell. I wonder why?

Well, partially, it’s because I think my house got marked. I didn’t see the exact sign hanging anywhere, but I’m sure it was there. One that probably said, "This guy is going to argue with you. Leave the stuff on the porch and get the heck out of dodge."

They were right about that, but I also think they knew not only would I argue with them, but I would argue with Scripture giving them quite a different perspective on their own world-view. You see, I’m really not afraid to argue about the Bible with anyone. I rather enjoy it, not because I like a fight, but because I get a chance to hone my skills at biblical interpretation. I enjoy seeing whether or not my own interpretations stand up to rigorous debate. If you are going to articulate your faith position and seek to proclaim the Gospel in this day and age, you’ve got to know your stuff and can’t just be superficial. It’s not enough just to say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." More and more, folks are hungering to hear Christians explain why they believe what they believe instead of just hearing the basic tenets of our faith.

Case in point: the end times. I just preached a sermon not too long ago on this topic, but here we are again, visiting it once more, but this time from the perspective of the Gospel of Luke. In my previous sermon a couple of weeks ago, I told everyone, "Do not be alarmed." The reason for this was simple: God is bigger than all of the stuff that will be taking place during the end times. If we trust in God, we do not need to be alarmed.

In Luke’s passage that is before us today, one could argue that Jesus is giving us a few hints that we should be alarmed. This would substantially contradict what I said a couple of weeks ago, so perhaps we should turn our attention to some of what Jesus says this morning. Jesus says, "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

Be on guard.

Be alert.

Pray that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man.

These sentences don’t exactly inspire one to have a low anxiety level. They don’t exactly shout out, "Do not be alarmed!" They tend to create a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of fear, a little bit of worry in our hearts regarding the day when Jesus returns. But the real question is: should they?

Take a close read of what Jesus says. Particularly pay close attention to this "Be on guard....so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life and that day does not catch you unexpectedly like a trap." Let me go over that once more, "Be on guard...why? So that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation which means wastefulness or scattering your attention to all types of things. So don’t let your heart’s attention be scattered all over the place or wasteful. Don’t let your heart be overcome with drunkenness and the worries of life because if they do, then the day of the Lord will come upon you unexpectedly. You will be caught off guard and unaware. It will sneak up on you. Why is this such a bad thing?

Take a moment to think about what it means to live a life of faith. Take a moment to reflect upon the type of life Jesus calls you and me to live. What is our purpose in life according to Jesus Christ? What are we called to do and be as people–as believers in God and followers of Jesus?

As followers of Jesus, does He call us to spend time being wasteful and scattering our attention all over the place?

As followers of Jesus, does He call us to spend time in drunkenness?

As followers of Jesus, does He call us to spend time and energy with all the worries of life?

In short, no. Not at all. This is not what Jesus calls us to do and be. Not by a long shot. But it begs the question once again, what does Jesus call us to do and be? What is our role in life? What are we supposed to accomplish?

Let’s put a little bit of flesh on that question. Of course, I cannot stand up here this morning and individually dissect each and every one of your lives and tell you what I think God has in store for you. That would be disingenuous, and that’s not a job for me to do. Each individual must discern his or her own specifics; however, there are a few general rules governing every one of us who calls ourselves Christians.

First, we must begin with Jesus’ last words. When He gathered all of His followers on a hilltop before being taken up into heaven, Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." This is one of our first and foremost instructions as followers of Jesus–we are called to make disciples and share God’s Word with the world. Each of you is equipped to do this in a special manner, and I hope you are engaging in this.

Secondly, Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment was. He replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and the second greatest is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets." So, the second general thing we as Christians are called to do is love and honor God and then love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we concentrate on these two, we are living the life Christ called us to live, and once again we are equipped individually and uniquely to do this in various ways.

There could be a whole lot more stuff to preach, but I’d like to end with one more general recommendation as to what Jesus has called us to do and be. Jesus addressed His disciples and told them frankly not to worry about all the stuff of this life. He told them not to worry about what they would eat and drink and what they would wear. "For your heavenly Father knows you need these things. Instead, seek first the Kingdom of God and it’s righteousness, and then all these other things will be given unto you." Spend your time seeking God’s Kingdom.

Think about those things I just listed and compare them to what Jesus says about the end times. If we are engaged in doing what Jesus asks us to do and not falling into the temptation of allowing our attentions to be drawn away from what we are supposed to be doing, we have nothing to be alarmed about. We have nothing to fear. In fact, Jesus tells us to do quite the opposite. If we are seeking His Kingdom, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, and making disciples, Jesus says, "Stand up and raise your heads!" This is not a sign of cowering. This is not a sign of huddling in fear. It is a sign of strength, a sign of anticipation, a sign of looking forward to what is happening. Why stand in this manner? Because the Lord is returning, and
it is going to be a glorious day. Amen.

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