Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:0-13; Luke 21:25-36
Let us pray. Almighty God, look upon this gathering with a pierced heart and loving eyes. Strengthen the spirits of these, your people, as they listen to these Scriptures and apply them to their life together here at Calvary Presbyterian Church. We pray that you would light the path before us, show us which way to go. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
From my previous visits with you, you may recall I like to preach from the revised common lectionary, and I try to do my best to preach from what I call a “teaching voice” – meaning I try to illuminate something of the background of the Scripture being read, then narrow in on the specific passage for the day. After that, I like to invite all of us to explore together what the passage may have to say for our context today.
Today, I’d like to use a different voice, one that isn’t heard very often. I’m hoping to use what I call the “prophetic voice.” Every so often it is helpful to have a guest preacher come in to speak who can make some keen observations and offer questions to challenge your spiritual life together, personally or as a congregation. Using the prophetic voice does have some risks; it may make some people uncomfortable, it may even make some people angry.
However, my hope for you by the end of today’s sermon is that I will stir the embers of your hearts to flame and galvanize you and your congregation to significant Christian action, because faith is about practice, and as the second chapter of the book of James tells us: faith, without works, is dead.
Today’s lectionary readings are about the Second Coming of Christ. Make no mistake, these readings point not to the coming of Christ at Christmas, but the coming of Christ in all his risen glory to judge the world. The Second Coming of Christ will hail the final and ultimate reality of the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is meant to be. My question for you is, when Jesus comes, what will he find?
Remember the landowner returning from a distant journey, who found two diligent servants who were good stewards of their Master’s gifts? Do you remember what happened to the third steward who did nothing but bury his talent in the ground, then return it upon the Master’s return? Which of the servants are you? Will Jesus return and find we have taken God’s good gifts and multiplied them for the good of our Master? Or will he find us apathetic to the blatant needs all around us in our current day? Will he find us working on behalf the Kingdom of God-bringing people to Jesus Christ, supporting peace and justice in all of Creation, or will he find us sitting by while people hunger and thirst and the Earth is despoiled?
When Jesus returns, what will he find, and how will we know when that time approaches? Selected verses from today’s Gospel lesson jumped out at me this week, so I make bold to bring them to your attention. Listen again for the word of God from the 21st chapter of Luke.
Luke 21: 25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken…36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and, that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have normally viewed any discussion about the Second Coming with a sort-of dreamy fuzziness: “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus just came back and fixed all the problems we have in the world?”
Advent is about waiting. Not only for Christmas and remembering Christ’s birth, but also waiting during this “time between the times,” that is, the time between the beginning of God’s Kingdom when Christ was born, and the Second Coming when the Kingdom will be fully realized.
Today, the first Sunday in Advent, we are reminded that Jesus Christ IS coming again, in power, and when he comes, it will completely shake the foundations of everything we know. As the scripture tells us, the sun, the moon, the stars the very earth itself will shake like nothing we have ever experienced.
That is not all that should be shaking. We should be shaking in our boots at the thought of Jesus Christ, reigning Monarch of the world, arriving on the morrow to bring about the final realization of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Are you ready? I have hoped and prayed that I might be, but I fear often that I am not.
Just like the seasons of the earth we observe around us every year, our spiritual landscapes can wax and wane, going into times of drought in late summer and early fall, or even periods of frozen darkened despair in the depths of winter. During such times, often called the “winter of the soul,” it is far too easy to sit back and do nothing in the face of adversity. We watch church membership dwindle, congregations leave our denomination, some even ceasing to exist and closing the doors of Christ’s ministry among them forever. When summer camp programs and funding are cancelled; and our denomination as a whole has been shrinking steadily since the 1960s, it is so tempting to just say, “Oh, well, what can we do?”
But we cannot sit back and be passive. Jesus IS coming! The question remains, what will he find when he arrives?
Consider this: will your community continue as faithful followers of Christ, diligently working on behalf of the Kingdom of God? Or will you individually shrink into silos of isolation, scattered across this sanctuary never meeting one another’s eyes? Will be you look outward from these hallowed halls in search of ways to serve the community in which God and your founders placed you, or will you turn your back on the world beyond these walls? Will you be engaged in a personal journey that gazes inward without the balance of turning outward and reaching out to a changing culture? What will Jesus find when he comes? Diligence or Inactivity?
Friends, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Gospel of inactivity. It is a lifestyle of liveliness where we put our faith into action; anything less and we become imbalanced. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Are you doing that?
To be healthy disciples of Christ, we must live our lives in balance, growing inward in our life together, AND growing outward in service to the world. A helpful image of a healthy, balanced life looks like this: Picture a three-legged stool; the first leg is our inner life of the spirit. It reminds us that our hearts should be tuned to God.
I used to drive a 1967 VW Karmann Ghia; in fact early last spring on one of my occasions to visit and preach for you, I drove that car. When I wanted to listen to the radio, I had to turn a dial. Do you remember those? The dial turned and the stations would fade in and out as you came close to their relative bandwidths. In our spiritual lives, that dial must be turned so we are tuned-in to God. Similar to that old radio, if we are not tuned-in to God, our spiritual lives fade away. Now go back to the three-legged stool: if we only have one leg on the stool, it is out of balance and will not stand.
The second leg of the stool is Christian Education – the discipline of constant learning more about God and God’s redeeming work in the world. We are tuned-in to God with the first leg on the stool when we love God with all our hearts. With Christian Education, we can love God with all our hearts and all our minds! But, those are only two of the legs. If you try to stand the stool up, it will still fall over, unbalanced and incomplete.
The third leg of the stool is Christian Action. Have you ever really wondered what the Scripture meant when it said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength?” This verse is common both to us and to our Jewish brothers and sisters and is referred to as the Schema; for our Jewish brothers and sisters, it is the greatest commandment given by God, found first in the Torah, or “the Law.” For us, we find it both in Dueteronomy and in the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus, as a young 30-something Rabbi, upheld this command to the faithful of his day in that conversation with an expert in the law. But Jesus went a step farther: he challenged the spiritual establishment of his day to practice what they preach illustrating his point with the story of the Good Samaritan.
I remind of you this because without all three legs on the stool, the inner life of faith with God, Christian Education, and Christian Action, our faith-and our lives-remain imbalanced. To reach a balanced life of faith in the world, the three legs must all be present.
It begins with God loving us through Jesus Christ. It grows on the leg of spirituality, our inner life of the heart tuned-in to God. It grows stronger with the second leg as our minds learn ever more about God and living out the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It finally stands strong with the third leg – which is action in the world wherever and whenever we do God’s work.
Friends, there is a hungry, hungry world just outside the doorsteps of this church. Look! Do you not see? Listen! Have you not heard? The Lord, our God, is an awesome God, being baptized into Christ, you are his hands and feet. Are you nailed to the cross dead? Or are you alive in the world as he is? Become the tools you were meant to be. Use the gifts you have been given and reach out to the community around you. Spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to your neighbors, invite everyone you meet to come to this table of our Lord Jesus Christ and be fed.
Advent. It is a time of waiting, yes. It is also a time to be aware that even in our waiting on Christ, we still do Christ’s work in the world. As we prepare for Christ’s birth yet again in our lives this Christmas season, may all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Let us pray. O God, you came into the world and dwelled among us for a time. We remember you as an infant, Lord. You came into your adulthood and taught, becoming Rabbi to us all so that we might live life more fully in God’s kingdom. We remember you as a young adult, Lord. You left this life with your death upon the cross, taking our sin and our unmaking of the Kingdom with you to the grave. We remember you in the tomb, Lord, and we remember you rose from the dead, vibrantly alive in this world. We remember you risen, Lord, seated on the right hand of God. And we remember, Lord, that you will come again, for you have told us this is so. We pray that you would guide us to live our lives in your Kingdom now and always, for it is in Christ’s name we pray, Amen.