Sunday, November 20, 2016

Time for Christ the King: Jeremiah 23:1-6 - Reign of Christ Sunday

1Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

After this excruciating election, it’s tragic sad to know that the division of our country extends to the point of raw hatred. 

Our president-elect has repeatedly promised to bring this country together, and I pray he is successful.  But what will it take?

Words are not enough to heal.  At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.  What happens to one happens to us all.  The only way to end divisions is to cross over them in peace to the other side.

But in our world, what happens to someone else is not my problem…and this may be, for our country, the biggest problem of all…

This was the mindset of the kings God speaks against in the words of the prophet Jeremiah.  Through most of Israel’s history, kings used their power only to advance themselves and a fortunate few.  They weren’t just corrupt.  Many of them terrorized God’s people.  Jeremiah himself was thrown into a cistern by his king.[1]  His crime was speaking God’s truth to power.

The king was supposed to have been a shepherd to his people—to make sure they were fed, to make sure they’re safe, to execute justice and righteousness in the land. 

But because they have failed—God is going to get personally involved.  God is raising up new shepherds.  No longer will God’s people to live in fear.   God will raise up for David a righteous branch who will rule wisely and govern justly.  None will be lost or forgotten anymore.  

We see in Jesus Christ a fulfillment of this promise, though not in the way any of us would expect… Jesus, himself, ends up a victim of unjust rulers.  He’s mocked, beaten, and crucified.  But he doesn’t curse anyone.  He doesn’t call down fire on them.  Instead, he cries, “Father, forgive them…”  And then, he turns to the criminal crucified next to him and promises, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” 

This is what a good shepherd does—seeing to it that not even a condemned criminal slips away from God’s fold… 

A good shepherd gets into the mess the sheep are in—regardless of whether it’s the sheep’s fault or if they’re victims of hatred and greed. 

Hear again those words “Father, forgive them.”  There’s mercy and grace amazing even for the most miserable sinner.  Jesus is personally involved in reconciling you to God and setting you on the way to new life in him.

Hear again those words “you will be with me,” because Jesus teaches you, from the cross, that your pain is his pain—and his resurrection will be your resurrection. 

God’s Righteous Branch is in the world, righting the wrongs and establishing peace.  We’re not there yet.  But nonetheless, Jesus is in the world, where his sheep are scattered and scared, bringing these promises to life in real time. 

This is where the rubber meets the road for you and me. 

If you want to see peace, justice, and righteousness in the world, it must begin with you.  It must begin by taking personal ownership of your neighbor’s poverty and pain.  As a member of the Body of Christ, you are sent to be the presence of Jesus with those neighbors.   God’s salvation begins when someone like you is simply present, not trying to fix, but merely doing what is in you to do.  You’re bearing the cross together into the sure promise of resurrection. 

It’s so easy to hold back and mind your own business, because you probably have more than enough troubles of your own to deal with.  But the way to your truest self is in seeing yourself as a member of Christ’s flock—and as having a direct role in the coming Kingdom.  Jesus is with you and me in all the pains and injustices of this world, naming the wrongs and pulling us together by the power of his Spirit to heal and transform.  Jesus is with you and me to lead us into a new creation that will ultimately overturn the powers of greed and hate, that we can finally worship God freely and without fear.  The time has now come for Jesus to reign.  Today is the day for Christ the King.

[1] Jeremiah 37:16

Sunday, November 13, 2016

To Tomorrow with Endurance: Luke 21:5-19 - 26th Sunday after Pentecost

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. 19
By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (NRSV)
Sunrise by CipherN.  Creative Commons image on flickr.
Chance are, you know the story of Chicken Little...

It begins when an acorn falls from a tree and strikes Chicken Little on the head.  He immediately panics, believing that the sky is falling.  He then proceeds to warn everyone he sees of the dreadful news.  He gains a significant following who believe it, based largely on the conviction of his testimony. 

Foxy Loxy also hears Chicken Little, and offers his underground lair as a refuge for the frightened fowl and his friends.  Once he has the animals cornered, he eats them all.  End of story. 

The moral of the story is that fear and paranoia make one vulnerable for being led astray. 

But I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ warnings in today’s Gospel are every bit as outrageous as Chicken Little’s…

Jesus is with his disciples, teaching inside the magnificent Jerusalem temple.  The size and beauty of this building made it a marvel of the ancient world—and why not?  This is the Temple of the one true God.  It was built to last forever. 

And here, you have Jesus—prophesying that the Temple’s days are numbered.  Not one stone shall be left on the other.

He goes on to warn of false prophets and teachers who will be making false claims about themselves and about the future.  All the while, there will be wars and insurrections, famines, plagues, and earthquakes, the likes of which have never before been seen.

Yet before that happens, Christians will be arrested and put on trial.  Their closest family and friends will betray them into the hands of the authorities who will put them to death.

About forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the unthinkable comes to pass—the Roman general Titus and his armies sack Jerusalem and raze the temple to the ground.  Christians will have been—and will continue to be—hated, reviled, and persecuted on account of their faith. 

But Jesus’ warnings come with two powerful promises:
1.     Don’t worry about what you will say or what you do.  Your suffering and persecution will provide opportunities for you to testify to God’s faithfulness.
2.     God will enable you to endure—and in your endurance you will gain your souls…

So what are we to say about these things?

With everything happening in our world today, it’s hard to believe that we’re not living in the end times.  In many parts of the world, our sisters and brothers are being brutally persecuted and killed for their faith.  Natural disasters are striking at an unprecedented scale.  Wars and insurrections are happening everywhere—even here in America.  And you have terrorist groups like ISIS spreading death and destruction wherever they go. 

These are frightening times we’re living in—making us the perfect prey for Foxy Loxy and all kinds of false prophets and Messiahs in this world. We’ve just endured months of political with candidates promising you the American dream in exchange for your vote.  TV preachers and bestselling Christian authors promise you much the same if you believe God enough to send them money and buy their merchandise.  Religious cults and entrepreneurial pyramid promise you everything, when in fact everything is what they take.  Then there are all the personalities on television and the internet who deliver to you their interpretation of current events.  They have the charisma and the pizzazz to make a true believer out of anyone. 

The way you see reality is unquestionably influenced by the ones you listen to and whose words you trust.  Never before has it been more important for you to be listening to Jesus—lest you, too, be led astray. 

Even though Jesus makes no promises for a prosperous, care-free life, he does promise his utmost faithfulness.  If the unimaginable happens, and you’re facing people who hate you because of Jesus, he will give you the words to speak.  If the unthinkable happens, and the world is coming to an end, Jesus will give you endurance.  The sky itself may crumble and fall, but not one hair of your head will parish.  Jesus will be stronger than every crisis, every persecution, and every loss.

Your challenge is to open your ears to Jesus and lift your heads to see him as he comes to be your deliverer.  But that’s not all.

You will quickly lose hope in resurrection if you are not doing resurrection.  In other words, if you believe the sky is falling, you’re probably going to jump into a fox hole, trying desperately to escape your doom.

If you believe in Jesus, you’re boldly defying chaos and evil by being out in the open, in the world, testifying to God’s love and faithfulness.  We’re not Polyanna, trying to make the best of a bad situation—or shouting “all is well” amid chaos.  We’re doing what Jesus would have us do—sharing our faith.  Feeding the hungry.  Befriending the forgotten. 

So you may as well live like the world is going to end tomorrow—because God is not waiting eagerly to destroy the world and everyone in it.  God is in the world to redeem everyone in it.  So do good today.  Be kind.  Give generously.  Forgive graciously.  Pray fervently.  Trust Jesus. To tomorrow with endurance.