Sunday, November 14, 2010

“Past, Present, Future”

Malachi 4:1-2a
See, 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. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

2 Thessalonians 3:6–13
Now 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. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and 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. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “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.”

They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And 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.

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. Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

A Message from the Pastor
Well, this church year is quickly coming to a close. Today is the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost. There is only one Sunday left after this Sunday; it is Christ the King Sunday when we acknowledge the reign of God through Christ. As we come to the close of the church year, the readings always address the “end times,” or so it seems. The Malachi reading for today mentions that, “the day is coming.” Then the writer recites ominous events that will occur. In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the writer is also talking about the end times. Unfortunately some people read this text and refer to it as a message against such things as welfare payments, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and the like. However, what had been happening was that there were many who believed that Jesus was coming again, soon. (Even Paul believed that Jesus would come again before he died.) Some of the believers stopped working. The thought process was that there was no reason to work if Jesus would come soon. Some, of course, used the time to be busy bodies and practice idle gossip. The writer of the letter was admonishing them to continue living in an appropriate way. (Martin Luther said that if he knew the Second Coming would happen the next day, he would plant a tree today.)

Then we have the gospel reading for today in which Jesus responds to comments about the temple, its beauty and magnificence. He told them that nothing would be left standing. There would be no stone standing upon another. He talked of wars and insurrections, nations against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, great earthquakes, famine and plagues, and dread portents and signs from heaven. They were all ominous to hear. When we read this text we can think about the past, present, and the future.

We focus on the past by considering when Jesus spoke these words. When we read more deeply into his comments, we find that Jesus was not predicting the end of the world, but was talking about how to deal with what they would face. We’ve always had wars, nations against nations, great earthquakes, famines, plagues, dreadful “signs,” and great developments in the heavens. What he did say was not to be fearful, and, then, the critical comment, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” That last comment does not necessarily say that by endurance you will go to heaven. In speaking of our souls, I believe Jesus is talking about knowing who we are and whose we are. Our “soul” represents all of who we are and what we are about.

The past continues when we think about the time this gospel was written, which was circa 90 AD. The readers were being persecuted as Christians. In 70 AD, Jerusalem was laid waste and the temple was completely destroyed with no stone left upon another. Furthermore, before this gospel was written, Mt. Vesuvius had erupted. If we remember the results of Mt. Helena, we know that such an event can be seen from great distances. The people in the Mediterranean Basin would have been well aware of the utter destruction this natural disaster caused. It would give one pause to think that the world was coming to an end. The gospel writer was reminding them what Jesus said that we are to endure and to testify to our relationship with God, through Christ.

When we skip to the future, this is what some people use to predict what is going to happen in the near future. They use fear to bring us to think the way they wish. When we are fearful, we change the way we think. We change our perspectives, our priorities, and our values. People use the words of Malachi and the Gospel of Luke to evoke that fear.

When we think of the present, I suggest we remind ourselves that God is the creator of time and space. As such, God is always in the present. To God there is no past or future. And it is in the present where we meet God and develop a relationship with God. We are reminded that, in the present, God will be there to help us testify and to strengthen us in our endurance through life.

When we hear the words of Jesus in this gospel text for today, it may not be easy to relate to what Jesus said. None of us are persecuted. Families, friends, or other relatives do not betray us. We will not be put to death. We will not be brought to trial because of our belief. However, we do need to remember that God will give us the words to speak and that we need to endure.

We have our own wars that we fight as we struggle with life. We have our own personal earthquakes as events shatter us. We have our own famines as we sense our starving for attention or love. In the midst of all this, we are called to testify, although differently than the early Christians. In fact, we have all known people who have had a difficult life dealt to them. It seems to me that this is when we see God more clearly, if we are open. God reveals himself at such times. There is a person in a church I was serving. She lost her husband at age fifty-five. She has a son who is mentally ill and a daughter who deals with certain issues. In addition, if I had a large sheet of paper, I could fill it with the list of diseases and illnesses that she experiences. Yet, whenever I talked to her, she would always demonstrate her great love, faith, and hope in God. She was positive about life. This is how she testified.

In addition, anyone I have talked to, who has had difficult times in life and has been connected to God in a strong personal relationship always talks about the blessings they receive through such experiences. For example, when I was serving a congregation in Florence, there was a group of people “out to get me.” It was not a fun time. In the midst of it, Frankie developed situational depression. A month later, I did the same. (It was really a fun time in our home.) In the midst of it, a friend of mine said at a meeting that blessings would come out of it. She told me to endure and walk through it. About a year later, exactly on Easter Sunday, at the sunrise service, I knew the depression had left me. It was true, blessings did come. I had gained my soul in another way.

I’m certainly not suggesting that we look for misery or catastrophes so we can be blessed or can testify. However, by revering God as Malachi says, and doing what is appropriate, we can, by our endurance, know who we are and whose we are. We will gain our souls.

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