April 28, 2020 – Thy Kingdom Come, But Probably Not the Way We Think It Will- Luke 17:20-37

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Photo by Franck Denis on Pexels.com

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:20-37 (ESV)

Most of us have heard the narrative regarding the end of the world in which there is portrayed to be a rapture of the church that is loosely based upon these verses.

Whether one believes in a rapture of the church or not (amillennialism is the eschatological- or end times- teaching traditionally held by the Lutheran church, meaning we generally aren’t into the rapture concept) one thing is certain.  As we affirm in all of the ecumenical creeds, Christ has risen from the dead, and He will come to judge the living from the dead.

There are people who will try to set dates and speculate on when Jesus will return, and they are all going to be wrong. We know Jesus is coming back, but we have no way of knowing when.  As He says, people will be behaving like in the days of Noah- doing their things, openly mocking God, and feeling no sorrow or repentance for their sins, blissfully unaware that judgment is around the corner.  That is a frightening concept, for anyone to become the object of the wrath of God, but it is also a reminder that God is the creator and we are the created.

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, the third petition, which is the most difficult of the petitions to pray and mean it: Thy will be done. This is in direct contrast to the whispering of the serpent in the Garden, whose call to temptation always begins and ends with, You will be like God.

Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 

In our baptisms we are buried with Christ, and we are born into new life with Him.

The Kingdom of God is already here, happening and unfolding.  It’s not all the way here yet.  It’s not going to be what we expect and it won’t go according to our plans. Thy will is always going to be done, whether or not we are on board with it!

In many ways this knowledge is both a warning and a relief.  A warning to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, because yes, the Bridegroom will return for us at any time, but also a relief because we know that this tenuous arrangement of “now, but not yet” living with one foot in both the worldly and heavenly kingdoms will finally be made into a complete “now and for always.” In our baptisms we are given the promise that we are God’s own child, and we receive the gift of faith. We are marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Jesus came to earth to suffer and die to save us from our sins.  He is returning for His people, to judge the living and the dead and to establish the world to come forever. And it’s all going to be done His way.

 

 

April 9, 2020 – Maundy Thursday- Given and Shed for You, Jesus Prays for Us -Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:39-46

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Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)

In these words of institution there is some argument among Christians as to what Jesus really meant.  Some Christians (such as Orthodox and Roman Catholic) believe that the water and wine transform themselves into body and blood, that once they are consecrated they are no longer bread and wine even though they look like and taste like bread and wine.  Other Christians look upon Communion as simply a memorial meal in which the language is figurative- it’s just bread and wine or crackers and grape juice, and we do it because Jesus did it.

An alternative view on the Supper is to take Jesus exactly at His word.

This IS My body. This IS My blood of the covenant.

In the Small Catechism we are taught:

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.

In these times it is difficult when we cannot meet together and share the Sacrament. Yet Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. By eating the bread that IS at the same time His body, and by drinking the wine that IS at the same time His blood, we are made stronger, we are reinforced as members of one Body.  We are reminded that because Jesus made the sacrifice of His body and His blood, the penalty for our sins is paid.  We are forgiven.

All we can do this Maundy Thursday is remember, even though for now we must forgo the benefit of physically sharing the meal, is that Jesus has still given His body and His blood so that we may have the gift of salvation.

Tonight we also remember after this Last Supper, before Jesus was arrested and taken, before His trial, before the crucifixion, Jesus’ long night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,   and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Jesus is actually praying the third and sixth petitions of the Lord’s prayer – the third and most difficult, “thy will be done” for Himself. Even as He prayed, He sweat tears of blood, knowing it was God’s will for Him to drink the most bitter cup of punishment possible, and that the cup would not be taken from Him. For His disciples He prayed that they would not fall into temptation (the sixth petition) because He knew their weakness.

Jesus taught us to pray these petitions because He knows how much we chafe at the reality that we are subject to God’s will.  We don’t like to admit that God is holy and we are not.  We want to believe that we earn our daily bread, when in fact even the ability to earn anything is a gift from God. We are tempted at every turn by our own sinful flesh, by the world and by Satan the accuser as well.

Sometimes the cup of suffering is unavoidable. Sometimes we fall into temptation. Sometimes we forget that we aren’t the ones running the universe. Like the disciples we have to be reminded to wake up and pray that we don’t fall into temptation- that we aren’t tempted to despair, to give up hope, to run from Jesus instead of running to Him.

Today we pray that God’s will be done and that we would not be afraid to cling to Jesus instead of trying to rely on ourselves.

Lord, we thank you for the precious gifts of Your body and blood, given and shed for us to forgive us and to wash us clean of our sins. Deliver us from temptation and grant us the gift of unwavering faith in You.

March 25, 2020 God Understands Our Frustrations and Hears Our Prayers- Psalm 79

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O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!

For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. Psalm 79 (ESV)

Imprecatory (or “curse”) Psalms (35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109 and 137) are a little bit different than the majority of the Psalms in that the prayers offered to God call for the destruction of enemies.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to turn the other cheek. So we wonder why anyone would pray to God to pour out His anger on others?

One of the big lessons of the imprecatory Psalms is that God hears all of our prayers and He encourages us to pray even when we are angry, even when we experience injustice, even when our anguish overwhelms us.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

At the heart of even these anguished and revengeful prayers is faith: faith in God’s justice, faith that His will ultimately will be done, even though we might not understand how and in what kind of time.

In praying these Psalms we trust that God will deal with our enemies.  Only God knows the whole story and sees our enemies as they really are, without our biases. God already  knows how we feel about our enemies, but in honest prayer we admit both to God and to ourselves that we want justice for what our enemies have done.  We agree with God that the world is broken and that all is not as it should be.

We don’t gain anything by being Pollyannas and pretending that the world is fine and that we love everyone all the time and that we have never been hurt or wronged. We may experience righteous anger, as well as anger that is not justified.  Because we are sinful, we experience emotions through the lens of our bias, while God already has the complete picture. It’s easy to see what our enemies have done to us, but we don’t always see the trail of destruction we leave behind as well.

We do lift even our anger at others and our sense of injustice up to God in prayer along with every other need, every other petition, every other moment of thankfulness and praise.  Our judgments and condemnations may or may not be justified, but we can trust that God’s plan gets carried out according to His will- justice as well as mercy.

We can be confident that Jesus has overcome death and the grave in our place. We can trust that He alone has paid the price for our sins, that in Him we confess our sins and we are forgiven.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer – What a Friend We Have in Jesus -Joseph M. Scriven

No matter what is on our hearts and minds, we are free to take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday-Remember God NOW- Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, Matthew 12:43-45

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Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

Today Lent begins. Traditionally Lent is a season of examination, repentance, sacrifice, and getting our priorities straight. If we accept the challenge, Lent can be a time of great spiritual growth for us. This Lent begins a journey- a journey with Jesus to the Cross.

It is interesting that Solomon, the Teacher, implores us to remember God NOW. Surrendering to God and getting closer to Him is not something to be checked off the bucket list at the last minute, but something to do NOW, before the bucket list comes into play.

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to reflect not only on our mortality and our sins and all the ways we fall short of God’s expectations for us, but it is also a time to reflect on how we “do life.” Yes, we should confess and repent (repent means: to turn away from) of our sins.  As we reflect upon our sins and repent, we should also be mindful that turning from sin and those things that fail to glorify God has another essential component.

When we give up something harmful, what beneficial, God-honoring thing do we take up?  There is a great deal of truth to Grandma’s old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  If we aren’t intentionally pursuing the things that God intends for us, we will occupy ourselves with any old thing, and given human nature, many of those idle things do not bring glory to God.

Jesus put it this way: “When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.

“That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.” Matthew 12:43-45 (MSG)

There’s no sense in cleaning house and cleaning up our lives unless we surrender our lives to God to put them to good use. The discipline of surrender is simply inviting Jesus to clean us up, and then inviting Him to move on in.  He’s the one at work here, not us. Grace, love, and joy happen when we let go and let Him in. He actively brings about God’s kingdom through us here on earth.

How are we responding to the grace of God NOW? Are we honestly praying the most difficult petition of the Lord’s Prayer- “Thy will be done?”  Are we listening to the Holy Spirit when He responds?

There is nothing wrong with the tradition of “giving something up for Lent.” Sacrifice is a beneficial discipline for Jesus followers.  Yet along with giving up harmful things, and/or getting rid of the clutter, we are called to take up our own cross and live surrendered and sacrificially as we follow Jesus.  We are called to live the God-life NOW, not as something to check off our bucket list, but as something to embrace NOW, because our time here is fleeting and not at all guaranteed.

Life on this earth is a limited time offer. We are called to get out there- NOW- and live it in response to God Who has given it to us.