Isaiah 12, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
1 You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. 2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13
6 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. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 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. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he 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.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 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. 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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there 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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
It’s Time To Take Off Your Blinders
Remember our conversation about squirrels a few weeks ago? What other distractions affect us? Have you ever walked into a space full of sounds, lights, and chaos? This environment provides us with a totally different kind of distraction. I am a great fan of Charlie Brown. I have shared with some of you that Lowell and I started dating when we were both cast members of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. As we became a family, we watched every Charlie Brown special. Not to rush into the Christmas season, but remember in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Charlie Brown cried out in disgust at the spectacle that Christmas had become. Can’t anyone tell me what Christmas is about? Linus quietly and poetically took the stage and told the true story of Christmas. A story without flashing lights and mechanical sounds, but a story that begins with a bright star and sounds of nature. Let us work together to focus on the awe and wonder that surrounds us!
- How Does God create new beginnings?
We encounter people every day who suffer from physical, emotional, mental, cultural, and spiritual bondages we cannot even see. But, by God’s grace and the promise of the prophet Isaiah, we can be witnesses to the transformative power of God. We are believers in new beginnings and the possibility of new realities. This past week, I have considered our earthly time like being on the practice squad. God does not remove challenges from us because we need to learn. Just as a parent who solves all of the children’s problems, God gives us time to practice and learn how to walk like Christ. As believers, we are blessed by God who is with us always to hold our hands or even carry us when we can no longer move forward. We have been touched by the healing power of the Holy Spirit, and we know that while not all afflictions will be cured and not all captivities will be ended, we are blessed by the hope of a new day when all pain and all suffering are gone. Remember a time when you were hot and tired? Now, can you remember that feeling when you splashed your face with cool water? Immediate Regeneration! Isaiah 12:3 says: 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Jesus is the living water that sustains us and nourishes our souls.
- How is God’s love working in us?
Fire and Brimstone vs. Love, Hope, and Joy (Grace and Mercy)
Most of us remember attending a service led by a fire and brimstone preacher. I once read a story about a Sunday School teacher who tried to instill respect and awe in her students, but too often her teachings resulted in fear and dread. One of her students tells his story of how he felt that his life was surrounded by “Beware of God” signs. Imagine walking through your life believing that each potential step is a mistake. I remember another sweet friend who shared the idea that her preacher worked to scare people into heaven. This is not the God of love with whom I am called to serve. I feel obliged to be a love, hope, and joy preacher who teaches that we are saved by the grace and mercy of God who loves us.
All who allow the Holy Spirit to transform them are filled with the cleansing grace of God. The greatest blessing is when we release our fears and worries to God. We are immediately filled with God’s love and peace fills all of those spaces that were once inhabited by fear and anxiety. We are imperfect, we make mistakes (even big ones). When I think of God welcoming me, I always see the father in the story of the prodigal son: running towards me with open arms when I ask for forgiveness.
We are God’s children and we are not defined by our failings but by God whose name is love.
How is God at work in our broken world today?
Many of us grew up in homes where the 6:00 news was part of our family culture. Back in the days of three TV channels, there honestly wasn’t any other choice. My dad spent time each day reading the newspaper. After watching or listening to a newscast or reading the paper, if you were to describe our world today, what adjectives would you use? Don’t be shy, Broken, unjust, polluted, mean . . . The news has a way of pulling us into all that is bad or negative in our world. It can be debilitating and has become such a thing that there is a new vocabulary word in our dictionaries: Doomscrolling. It’s like something that no matter how hard you try you can’t look away from it.
Today, we also have the added news source (if you are being kind in your use of the word “news”) of social media. People flood social media with the worst that we as a society can inflict upon others. How do you describe the world after spending time viewing social media? Unforgiving? Distrustful? Gullible?
How often do we feel hopeful after checking the news? When the list is long and disheartening, it is hard to stay hopeful in such a world. We might think that all of this is a product of our modern society, but this is nothing new. Jesus told his followers that because of our sinful nature, fear, mistrust, and destructive power are all signs of a broken world and a broken relationship with God.
After all, God didn’t send Jesus to spend time among His creation because all was wonderful. God sent Jesus to show us the way because of our brokenness. God did not create this world or us for this. Despite our sinful nature, God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us. Jesus came to teach us a “new” way to see the world.
So, where is the good news in all this? Jesus tells us that the answer is simple: Earthly values do not have the final word; God does. What we see with our eyes is not the ultimate reality. Our ultimate reality is the will of God, the vision of a new creation, and a future filled with hope, harmony, and grace. We are called to look at the possibilities that surround us which are sometimes hidden deep within our hearts.
How many times do we see compassion and resilience during times of unspeakable tragedy? People whose lives are turned upside down due to natural or manmade disasters are blessed by the unexpected kindness from others. It brings tears to our eyes and a lump in our throats when we see God’s children coming together to help each other. Love your neighbor as yourself in action.
Christians sometimes have the mistaken idea that choosing Christ should supply those followers with a comfortable life free of challenges. Some even believe that faith should be easy! First, let me say that nothing that involves people is easy. We are so good at complicating even the simplest of things because we can’t imagine that things could be so simple.
One of my favorite stories is about the Apostle John, the only Apostle who lived to old age, who when he was very old and unable to walk, would be carried in on a mat to worship. Those believers who wanted to glean every bit of knowledge from him would ask him what they must do to be with God. He would stand before the congregation to speak with God’s people. He only had enough strength to say one sentence, to give them one word from the Lord. The word he would tell them was, “Little children, love one another!”
Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:34-35). I hear them saying, O come on, we’ve already heard that John, give us something more! “Little children, love one another!”
Choosing to believe, and to follow Christ requires action. The message is simple, Love one another! However, answering the call to love one another as disciples of Christ is hard work. Maintaining and growing our faith is a full-time job. Many in our world do not want to hear messages of equity, justice, tolerance, and generosity. These ideas are part of Jesus’ message that turned the world upside down. The very ideas upon which the Pharisees argued. The earthly understanding to be successful stands in direct contradiction to this. Those who have acquired their power through corruption, greed, and violence do not want to hear the Good News. To be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ and the vision of God for a just, loving, and free world is to invite the whole world to be against you.
Loving one another, and caring for those who cannot care for themselves levels the playing field: all are equal. (but I’ve done all this, how can that be fair?) “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30).
Let’s return to how we feel after watching or reading the news. Now, how do you feel after reading or listening to the stories of love and perseverance in the Bible? Christians have a long history of stories filled with those who by the grace of God overcome challenges. Against impossible odds, God’s children are saved because God loves us. We must remove our blinders so that we can see past the chaos and brokenness and see glimpses of God’s glory. Our faith is sustained by the promises of eternal life. May we open ourselves to experience the awe and wonder of our God.
Proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ is risky business, but God is with us, now and forever. May we be so filled with the Holy Spirit that we continue to shout our praise of joy! Share in opportunities for service and join together in fellowship. Don’t let others quiet you or suppress your joy! “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”