Posts Tagged ‘End Times’

The End is Not the End 11-17-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 21:5-19, Jesus offers some “end timesy” type teaching, and so we explore how the promise of the Gospel offers us something to hold on to when it feels like the world is ending.

As this sermon was preached extemporaneously, I have not included the text.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

(note that the audio was recorded without a mic, so the audio is low quality)

Only the Beginning 11-18-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 13:1-8, Jesus gets apocalyptic. This is normal at the end of the church year. Unfortunately we’re only given little glimpses but we are given the promise that we will never be left alone in it.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The Grace and Peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Just out of curiosity…how many of you out there were raised in the city? Any city…doesn’t matter which one? (Pause) Okay now on the flipside…how many grew up in a small rural town, or even out in the country? (pause) Okay, now I know what I’m working with.

As many of you know…I was a farm kid growing up…living a few miles outside of a town about the same size as Underwood…roughly 800 people. Now one difference was the proximity to urban areas. Around here we’ve got the Omaha/Council Bluffs metro just a few minutes down the road…but we often joked that my hometown was 3 hours from everywhere. The Twin Cities…three hours.  Des Moines…about three hours…Omaha, yep, that’s three hours. Sioux Falls…OH!!! That’s only 90 minutes. (pause)

It probably goes without saying…that in my normal day to day life growing up…I was pretty used to open fields…and the tallest structures out there were usually a silo or the local elevator if you happened to be in town.  And because of this…the rare times when I ended up in the downtown area of a city were eye opening.

I can remember being in downtown Des Moines during high school for state FFA convention…and thinking how crazy busy it was as we small town boys made our way around the skywalk.  And maybe even more memorable…my freshman year when we traveled to Chicago for a music trip…and I found myself standing on the sidewalk beside the skyscraper known then as the Sears Tower…just staring up at this monstrosity of architectural and construction achievement.

It was just so huge…I couldn’t even begin to understand how anyone would make something like that…and on the flipside…now that its there…I couldn’t imagine anything ever bringing it down. (pause) Anyone know what I’m talking about?  Standing there looking at something, whether man-made or something in nature…that is just so huge…so grand…so massively immovable, that you find yourself in awe? (Pause) Well, as we consider today’s gospel lesson, you are in good company…as Jesus and his disciples go walking out of the temple courtyard in Jerusalem.

As we start to think about this…remember that the 12 disciples were likely pretty young…maybe in their teens or 20’s…and most of them, perhaps not all, but most of them were from small towns or communities…particularly the small communities from the somewhat backwater region of Galilee…communities where the biggest structure they would ever see was the local synagogue.

But now they find themselves in the middle of the city…staring up that enormity of the temple…which by every description we have available…must have been impressive.  Keep in mind this is the 2nd temple…completed by Herod the Great a generation before…and it was comprised of many different structures and courtyards and staircases…all surrounded by a giant wall, all built over the course of decades…it must have been a site to see…and for these small town boys…I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been…and we hear it from them…Teacher, look at these enormous, magnificent stones and amazing buildings.

I bet it was impressive…I’ve seen first-hand some of those stones that are still standing today in what’s called the Western Wall…or Wailing Wall…the only part of that entire enormous structure that is still standing…and those stones alone are huge…roughly 4 or 5 feet cubed…and solid rock…can you imagine trying to put those into place? We’d need a crane of some sort now, but they did it with basic human labor…and even more amazing…those were the smaller stones…recent work in Jerusalem has uncovered massive foundation stones that were upwards of 20 feet long and 10 feet high. (pause)

Starting to see why these simple farm boys and fishermen were so impressed? (pause) But here’s the thing…no sooner does this one random disciple make his wondrous statement to Jesus…then Jesus makes a prediction that must really rain on his parade.  You see these stones…the day will come when not one will be left on another…and then apparently with no other explanation…he walks away.

With that, we find a scene change, as Jesus and the disciples have gone out of the temple area and crossed the Kidron valley to the east…and then plopped themselves down on the Mount of Olives…a vantage point where they can see the glory of the temple mount from a distance…and the first four disciples that Jesus called…Peter and James and John and Andrew…the epitome of the backwater country bumpkins…they figure its up to them to figure out how this is all gonna happen.

Master…what will be the sign that this is about to take place? (Pause) It seems that they want to know what it is they better be looking for…because anything that is massive enough or strong enough to destroy the utter gloriousness of the temple mount…well that’s probably gonna be a bad thing isn’t it?

But Jesus doesn’t really give them a straight answer does he? He starts off with a warning that they not allow themselves to be led astray…and then he gives warnings about wars that will come and go…and nations rising up against nation…and natural disasters…and all kinds of stuff. Stuff that sounds…REALLY BAD…stuff that if we found ourselves on the receiving end of it…would be something we’d call “the end of the world.” And, to be honest…isn’t that type of thing what we all hope we’ve got a little advanced warning for? (pause)

Now…this first portion of chapter 13 is actually part of a larger account of Jesus teaching the disciples about (air quote this) “the end times.” And the fact that we run into it here in late November is quite normal…as we come to the end of another church year, we always run into these texts…texts often described as “apocalyptic” in nature…texts which we all commonly think of as describing those end times.

And after many different conversations with people based on this type of text over the years…I know its pretty common for all of us to hear them and think “well that doesn’t sound good…but it also doesn’t give us a whole to go on either.” And isn’t that true? I mean, its so true…and fairly universal interest in it is so real…that many people have made attempts to explain it away…even “read the code” to uncover just when it’ll happen…and how all the bad stuff that happens in the world…whether natural disasters or human centered misery…is actually a roadmap that points to just when “the end” often called the rapture…is going to be.

I always chuckle and shake my head when I hear these predictions on the news…and then I flat out laugh when the day comes and goes and the person who made the prediction in the first place sheepishly reports “We may have misread the signs.”  DUH!

But all sarcasm aside…I think it is human nature to look at the state of the world…to see horrible event after horrible event and think…Well this must be the end.  Oh no…well now this one is it…Oh I guess not, but THIS time is it right? (pause)

Maybe, just maybe, we humans have a really hard time seeing beyond whatever is staring us right in the face…whether its marveling at giant buildings or natural features like mountains or cliffs that we think will never be knocked down…or on the other end of thing to see forces at work which we are powerless to stop…like category 5 hurricanes or tsunamis or even the apparently blind hatred expressed by one group for another group.  And as we witness these different things we can only think “this is it” and nothing I can think or do or say is going to change it.

And that’s daunting isn’t it?  And maybe, just maybe, if we bring things down to a smaller scale we begin to realize that sheer size or magnitude isn’t the sole factor either.  Think about the lost job.  Or the cancer diagnosis.  Or the balance due notice…or the family standing at a graveside to bury their loved one…those moments when it feels like life is over, even as the rest of the world is going on about their business.  Are the dire feelings that come with those moments any less real than the sense the disciples felt when Jesus tells them the temple will be destroyed? (pause)

So are we in “the end times?”   Is Jesus about to come back? Well…I hope so…but honestly I don’t think so…and I don’t think that’s the point of all these different apocalyptic texts in the first place. Something that we especially see if we pay attention to Jesus’ final statement in today’s little section of this larger teaching.  This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (pause) This is the beginning.

I am, as you may have noticed…a guy…and I will never ever know the pain and agony of childbirth…and honestly, as my two kids were born by c-section I’ve never really been adjacent to it either.  But I do remember a mom being induced at 6am the day after my son was born…and she walked the halls of that OB ward in the hospital for more than 25 hours before finally going to delivery…and then spending 2.5 hours pushing before her baby was born…and I can only imagine that for her…or for any of you moms out there that went through labor…that in the midst of it…it must feel like an eternity and that it will NEVER end.

And yet it does…and at the end…there is new life in that child…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what we need to remember as we consider these troublesome texts that point towards something unknown, but seemingly pretty earth shattering…just as labor pains leads to the joy of new life…it would seem that there’s new life on the other side of this unknown future that’s coming…and the idea of looking for something good and wonderful and joyful on the other side of things…there’s a name for that…Hope.

Now as followers of Christ…we’ve been given a promise…an assurance that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us…that it is here now and that we are invited into it…and at the same time we are also promised that there are aspects of this kingdom that haven’t come around yet…and that whatever they are…they lie out there on the other side of that unknown future…and for many of us, they lie on the other side of the boundary of death…and because of these promises of Christ…we hope…we are united by our common hope in this promised but unrealized future.

And there’s one more little detail from today’s story that points us in this direction. Jesus and the disciples are sitting on top of the Mount of Olives, looking across the valley at the Temple…now the temple pointed them towards God…it was the place where God is…the sign of God’s presence and God’s promises…that’s what they were looking at.

But the valley that lies between them…even back then…was a graveyard…and it still is today…they sat on one mountain…looking across the literal presence of death…and beyond it was the embodiment of hope.

I can’t tell you what that embodiment is for you. Maybe it’s the cross…or maybe it’s a song that’s especially meaningful for you…or maybe it’s the truth that is revealed to you in the scriptures…or maybe it’s the sacraments…the washing in the waters of baptism and the shared meal of holy communion…those physical elements that combine with the promises of God to reveal the reality of God’s grace and love for you…made real through the life death and resurrection of Jesus.

Remember these promises are made for you and TO you…not just once, but always…and we are given these blessings and mercies…new every morning.  No matter what the situation is…remember…this is only the beginning.  Let us live out this day…let us live out every day which will follow…and let us experience whatever it is that lies on the other side of this existence as we know it…secure in the hope given to us through the promises of Jesus Christ. Amen

Just A Guy In A Hole 12-3-17

In this sermon from Mark 13:24-37, I explore several themes. We begin the season of Advent, and with it a change in our focus. And yet the passage and theme is still very close to what we’ve seen that past few weeks out of Matthew’s gospel. We live in the tension between anticipating the celebration of the coming Messiah at Christmas, and knowing that this event has already occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
(note that at the time of recording, my voice was not in great shape)

You can also read along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

At some point in my elementary school days, I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it happened…my class participated in a project similar to what you might find in a high school year book. We all worked together to decide who would receive each special title…titles like Most Likely to Succeed, or Class Clown. (pause)  My class voted me…wait for it…Most Likely to be Seen on the News Someday. (pause)

Funny enough…it happened, and I wasn’t even out of elementary yet. One day, early in the spring of my 5th grade year, I happened to be home from school as I was feeling a little under the weather…I remember it was a bright and clear spring day…and all of the sudden, my mom called me to one of the windows. She pointed out a column of smoke coming from the vicinity of town…a batch of smoke heavy enough that we could see it from almost 10 miles away.

A moment later the phone rang, and mom answered it…and a minute later we were in the car driving into town, because the fire was happening at our church…and in a short amount of time…the church where I was baptized was destroyed…and of course there were news cameras there to report…which is how I ended up on the news.

Admittedly, this really isn’t something that I should make jokes about, as it was a very serious blow to my home congregation…granted I was too young to really understand the depths of what was happening at that time…but I’m sure those in the generations that came before me felt like their entire world was being rocked in that moment.

Now I wish I could say that this is the only major catastrophe that has befallen my old congregation…but its not…and actually just last week, my small town home church was in the news again when it went public that their former financial officer has been embezzling funds for years…funds in the neighborhood of half a million dollars. And once more, the people there are reeling…trying to figure out how to move forward as their world has been rocked. When their church, and their community is in utter upheaval. (pause)

Today marks a change…as you can see from the Christmas decorations here in the sanctuary and out in the narthex…the presence of the blue paraments and banners…by the Advent Wreath right over there…we’ve entered into a new season…and with  it a new church year. We’ve moved from the year of focus on Matthew’s gospel into the year of Mark…and at the same time we switch our focus away from the long ongoing life cycle of the church through the season of Pentecost into the sense of waiting…the feeling of anticipation of the coming Messiah at Christmas.

But despite the new season and new church year…perhaps things still sound pretty familiar…perhaps it sounds like more of the same as we consider the gospel lesson out of Mark that we’ve shared today…and if it does sound familiar…if it seems pretty spot on with the various readings and themes that we’ve shared in recent weeks out of Matthew, it should…because honestly it’s the same exact setting.

Jesus and his followers are in and around Jerusalem for the pending Passover festival…its his final week of life before his death on the cross…and together, this small group of people has been in and out of the temple…and in one of their trips through the gates the disciples are marveling at the magnificence of the temple and its massive building stones, when Jesus tells them that there will come a day when not one stone will be left upon another…and this freaks them out so much that they ask him “what will be a sign that this is about to happen?”

Same story…and that same sort of result with today’s reading isn’t it? Apocalyptic…end times-ish. Daunting as Jesus gives the instruction to stay awake for no one knows the day or the hour. (pause) Admittedly, when I read this passage at the beginning of the week to begin preparing for today, it caught me off guard. Pentecost is over…its Advent now…we should be looking for the coming Christ child not freaking out over what the end times are going to look like right? And yet…here we are…apparently stuck in the tension between these two events…and I’ve asked myself over and over again…Lord what are we to say about this? (pause)

And pretty soon I found myself thinking about that original question that the disciples asked…which perhaps was not just about “the end times” but was maybe about the destruction of the temple that Jesus had been talking about.

Now the Jewish people are no stranger to cultural tragedy are they…and in Jesus’ day they knew this same reality.  A culture which truly began in slavery…a culture that spent decades wandering as aimless nomads…a culture that scrapped tooth and nail for a land of their own and held it for a matter of a couple generations before it started falling apart and the various superpowers of the day came in and took it over…and keep in mind that the Jewish people have REALLY good memories for history…its vital to their culture…but that’s not the only thing…for their faith is also a central aspect.

And for this people who’s culture is so completely wrapped up in their relationship with God…the temple is vital…the temple is where you go to worship…the temple is where God is…tucked clear inside behind a curtain…but who’s presence is there none the less…and they’ve lost the temple before…the first temple built by King Solomon had been destroyed…and now Jesus is telling them that there will come a day when the most important location in their entire culture will be destroyed again. No wonder his followers found this shocking. That reality would have been devastating for them to experience. (pause)

But you know what, there’s another aspect to consider. Mark’s gospel is the oldest of the 4…but it was recorded decades after the fact…the stories of Christ and his disciples handed down, told from person to person…and by the time Mark was actually recorded…Jesus’ prediction had already happened…and the temple was already gone…utterly demolished by Roman troops as they squashed a Jewish revolt about 40 years after Jesus. (pause)
So we’ve got all kinds of turmoil in the works here. Turmoil for Jesus’ disciples as they hear that the center of their whole worlds will be destroyed.  Turmoil for the original audience of the gospel as they were living in that reality…I can only imagine that for them…it literally seemed like the world was ending…and the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus shares about the powers of heaven being shaken probably wouldn’t have seemed out of line when the physical representation of your faith has been utterly wiped off the map.

I can only imagine that for everyone that hears these words of Jesus…it hits home…living in the midst of events so drastic…so dire…so earth shattering that maybe we ask ourselves “is this the end?” And we shake our heads in disbelief with the feeling that there’s no hope…there’s no light…its all darkness. (pause0
I wonder if that sounds familiar? If you are experiencing something like this that has you shaken to your core…and all hope is gone.  I can’t help but think that if that’s not the case for you…then it is certainly the case for someone you know.

We can hardly turn on the news or open a newspaper or click into our internet browser without hearing about something. Shootings…bombings. Genocide. Tension between nuclear powers. Pain, hunger, sickness. Countless stories and accusations coming to light of public figures who have abused their position of authority for their own gratification at the expense of another person. Storms, fires, we have chaos all over the planet…and often in conversation with other people I hear them say “I think the end times are already here.”

And you know what, maybe they are…maybe they aren’t…but the only thing that we can say is that at some point for some person…the world is rocking them to their core and they feel lost…hopeless…abandoned…and if they look to the heavens and think that there’s some cosmic force out there looking down maybe they place the blame right there…or maybe they just get angry or discouraged and wonder if a word will ever come from on high. (pause)
This is the state that the nation of Israel found themselves in…the prophets had been silent for centuries…the temple system was corrupt…the government were puppets of the Romans…and yet they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah…they longed for the day when God would, once again…dwell among his chosen people…they waited, perhaps in agony…living in the tension of wondering if it would ever come to fruition.

We live in this same tension now today…as the church begins to look forward to the celebration of the Christ child at Christmas…an event that we celebrate and look forward to, but also one that we remember has ALREADY happened. Yes we look forward in Advent but the event which we look to is in the rearview mirror…Christ has already come and when he did he has utterly changed this reality.

But its not perfect yet…and perhaps for those of us experiencing those dark nights of the soul…those moments when hope is lost and we are stuck…it just feels like we are caught. (long pause)

A man is walking down the street and falls in a hole…and the sides are so steep, and that hole is so deep that the man can’t get out…he tries and tries and tries on his own but he’s stuck.  Low and behold, a doctor comes walking by. The man yells up Hey Doc can you get me out of here? The doctor writes a prescription and tosses it down in the hole and he walks away.  Then pretty soon an architect walks by. The man yells up Hey can you help me out? The architect draws up a schematic and tosses it in the hole and he walks away. But then the guys friend walks by…and he yells up Hey its me…can you help me out…and the friend jumps down into the hole next to him.  The guy says What are you doing, now we’re stuck in here together. But the friend says I know…but I’ve been in this hole before, and I know the way out. (pause)

Ever heard the song What a Friend We Have In Jesus? (pause) Life is messy…its hard and it knocks us around…sometimes so much that we can’t see anyway forward…but we have a God who has come to us…where we are…even in the bottom of a hole to show us that there is a way out…there is a way forward…if we can simply believe that there is a God out there who loves us enough to claim us as His own even in the midst of our turmoil.

And God has gone one step beyond that too…and God has given us to one another…because together we are the body of Christ…and so maybe, just maybe, the friend that you’ll find willing to jump down and guide you is sitting right across the aisle right now…just waiting for you to call out of the hole. Amen

Be Prepared 11-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 25:1-13, I explore an odd parable of 10 Bridesmaids, and the instruction to be prepared.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Any fellow movie buffs out there will likely agree that there are very few new ideas making it to the big screen anymore. Sequels and reboots seem to make up the vast majority of the box office any more…and this has even started to effect one of the most creative movie studios out there…Disney.

Most recently, we’ve started to see the rash of Disney live-action remakes…taking their popular animated films from years past and through the magic of cgi, bringing them to life. We’ve seen it with Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast…we’ve seen it with Jungle Book. I hear that Dumbo in the works…and so is The Lion King.

Now admittedly, I’m kind of excited about the Lion King…it’s a great movie and they’ve got James Earl Jones to lend his voice to Mufasa again…so you can’t go wrong. But thinking about the Lion King reminds me of just how well Disney has perfected their storytelling. There’s always the hero going on the hero’s journey…there’s always a love interest…and there’s always the villain.

Some might argue that the villain is the best part…or at least the most entertaining…especially when they take the time to explain their grand plan to their lackey’s…who are always portrayed as bumbling or foolish for the purpose of comic relief…and more often than not in a Disney film…this scene is going to involve a dastardly song…and in the Lion King…we hear Scar…awesome name by the way…explain things to his silly hyena sidekicks…with the grand song and exclamation to (sing) “BE PREPARED…” and then one of the hyenas pipes “Yah be prepared…we’ll be prepared…(pause) For what?” (pause)


Now I can only think that this is a perfect example of where we find ourselves today, here in the final couple of weeks of the church year…and the turn in our texts to all things…apocalyptic…to the theme of the end times. This is the natural theme that emerges every year at this time, as the season of Pentecost winds down…and since Pentecost is aimed at the life cycle of the church following the Ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that we think about what will happen…what will occur…what its all gonna look like. (pause)

Honestly…these are pretty common questions…questions that I bump into pretty regularly as I talk with people…curiosity about what to look for. Or when we think its coming…or is it already here. And you know what, if you have those questions…you’re in good company…because people have been asking those same questions since Biblical Times…wondering about the Day of the Lord…or the Glorious Reappearing…

We hear this theme in the reading today from Amos…and I don’t know about you but it didn’t sound so pleasant there did it? It came up a lot in the years following Jesus’ walking around.  The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians about it 20 odd years after Jesus…knowing that Jesus had promised that he was coming back…but now some believers are starting to die off and Jesus isn’t back yet? What’s that mean?

The gospels addressed it…and while the stories date back to Jesus’ time, the gospels themselves were recorded quite a few decades after the fact…so those audiences had been waiting and wondering. (pause) And not only that…but as we hear…Jesus himself talked about it…and his closest followers…the 12 disciples…the ones who you’d think would be able to understand…well they come up short too. That’s the reason that Jesus tells this story…this parable today…its part of long teaching…one that covers 2 whole chapters of Matthew’s gospel…and it is in response to the disciples asking the very same questions that we are still asking today.

Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple…and the disciples are impressed at the structure…but Jesus says there will be day when not one stone is left upon another…and after a few minutes of scratching their heads, the disciples ask him “Lord when will this be? What will be a sign of your coming?” They might as well be asking how can we be ready….how can we…be prepared? (pause)

Now as I mentioned…Jesus gives them A LOT to go on here…including this parable about the bridesmaids that we’ve shared today…and what’s interesting about this parable is the switch that we find right at the beginning. We’ve hit a lot of parables in the past few months…and all of them start with Jesus telling us “The kingdom of heaven IS like…” Well today, that’s different…and we hear “the kingdom of heaven WILL BE like…” We switch our focus from present tense to future tense…but in doing so, Jesus lays a doosy on us doesn’t he?

There’s a wedding…and 10 bridesmaids go out into the street to wait for the groom…so that they can join in the wedding procession. Now admittedly, we don’t know a ton about 1st century Jewish wedding customs…but we do know that they were a big deal…and that every in the community was involved in the celebration…and all we can say is that the groom is coming to get his bride and he, along with the rest of the wedding procession, will escort her to his father’s house where they will celebrate. (pause)
And so we’ve got these 10 bridesmaids with lamps. I don’t know why…but they’ve got them…and as we hear we’ve got 5 foolish ones who bring no supplies…and we’ve got 5 “wise” ones who bring extra oil. Now, take note…that these two descriptions aren’t exactly polar opposites…because the original language could call the second set wise, or it could mean shrewd or crafty…so when you hear wise, take that with a grain of salt.

But that being said, we hear of the delay…the groom is late to arrive…so late in fact that all 10 fall asleep, wise and foolish alike…EVERYONE was sleeping when finally…at midnight…when EVERYONE is in the midst of the deepest slumber…this guy that is SO Late, finally shows up…Behold here is the bridegroom.

And in their freshly awoken stupor, the bridesmaids all kinda freak out and try to light their lamps. The 5 foolish ones quickly realize that without oil their not getting much fire are they…and they ask…maybe even demand that the others share their oil…but the wise ones…well as we hear, they aren’t having it. “No, for there will not be enough for you and for us. Go get your own.” And as we hear, the 5 foolish ones run off to do just that. (pause)

Now typically, when I’ve talked about this story with others…I’ve heard the same response…we need to be like the wise ones…we need to be ready…we need to be prepared…and when I hear that my response is just like the hyena in Lion King. Yah we’ll be prepared…wait…for what?

Now some will say that the wise ones were “prepared” because they were ready to wait…but here’s the thing…what if the groom had waited till morning? What if he’d waited longer? It would be light out and they wouldn’t need their lamps would they? What if he’d come earlier before it got dark…same deal right?

And so what are to take from this? That their “preparation” of extra oil was beneficial because of dumb luck? I don’t think so. Maybe all we can really take from this is the sense that the bridegroom is coming, but we have no idea when its going to occur.

In this story we hear that he shows up late…but right before this, Jesus uses an example where the master shows up early…unexpected both times…but zero sense of when or how…and that’s the tricky part about trying to “prepare ourselves” for the end times…for the glorious moment when Jesus will come again.

Because I fear when we start down that road…we all fall into the trap of creating the checklist…what do I have to do? What do I have achieve…or what do I have to avoid in order to KNOW, that I’m okay…that I’m good to go. We all do it don’t we…and we can call it whatever we want…though self-justification is a pretty good lable…as we get stuck in the trap of thinking I’ve got it together…because as long as I follow “the rules” I know I’m safe…or maybe we compare ourselves to someone else when we think well I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not that bad.

That’s the trap…and its based on fear isn’t it? I’m afraid that I’ll be left out…and I want to be assured that I won’t be…Did you notice that all 10 bridesmaids got stuck in the same trap?  The 5 foolish ones were afraid that without a lit lamp…without oil to burn, the groom would turn them away…and so they literally ran away from him as he was arriving in order to complete the checklist.  And the 5 wise ones…did you notice that they had same fear. “If we give oil to you there won’t be enough for you and us.” They might as well have been saying that if we help you, we’re afraid that we won’t have our checklist done, and we’ll be left out too. (pause)

Its funny…Jesus tells us “Keep awake” but all 10 of them were sleeping weren’t they? (pause) Here’s the thing…and I know I’ve said it before…and I’m sure I’ll say it again. There is no checklist…there is no cosmic scoreboard…there is no indication that you’ve done enough or said enough or completed enough…that’s not how this works.

And maybe for those 10 bridesmaids, instead of operating out of fear that the groom would reject them because they weren’t ready, and instead they had taken the time to look the groom who had already arrived…maybe they would have found that groom was gracious…that the groom simply wanted them all to come along…and that the light of 5 lamps was more than enough to light the way for 10 people. Maybe, just maybe “being prepared” simply meant that they were there to greet him when he showed up.

So what’s that mean for us, here in the 21st century…as we are still waiting? How are we prepared? If there’s no checklist…then how do we respond to this? And maybe, just maybe the only thing we can take from this is to know that whenever it happens…whenever the bridegroom arrives looking for you as an individual, all you can do is rely on the promise that the groom wants you to come along into the banquet.

We wait for the second coming when the entire world will know that he’s come back.  We wait with anticipation and we trust in the promise that through Christ God has claimed us…that invitation has already been extended. And we live each day secure in this promise…whether we see Jesus in the cloud today, or tomorrow, or next week or next year…or if something else happens to us in the meantime.

I can only imagine 1 week ago…those 26 people who had gathered together for worship in Sutherland Springs Texas…those 26 people who gathered to offer up their praise and thanksgiving…the last thing they expected was death…and yet I believe that in that moment, tragic and horrific as it was…the groom showed up for them…just as he has promised to show up for each us as our life ends.

Maybe being prepared simply means believing that no matter what happens, that promise is true…and in the meantime, living out today in a way that reflect that promise to everyone else.  Jesus reminds us to love God and love our neighbor…and he also reminds us that whatever you have done for the least of these, you have also done for me.

We don’t earn our invitation into the banquet…its given to us…and that’s news worth sharing with the world through our words and our actions, so that we might mirror God’s perfect love for all the world. Amen.

You Are Seen 11-13-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 21:5-19, I explore Jesus’ teachings when asked about the end times. He doesn’t give us much, but reminds us that there will be difficult times before the end comes. In light of the recent election, this seems rather fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

Note that at the end of the sermon I play a song. It is “True Colors.” Originally performed by Cindy Lauper, here it features Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick from the movie Trolls. The song is present on the audio track linked above.

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

As my kids get older, I’m starting to notice how much less they agree on movies that they want to see. Their tastes are starting to get pretty different, which probably isn’t surprising. But with this change that’s happening, its becoming increasingly rare for all four of us to go to a movie together. However, this past weekend a movie opened that both kids wanted to see.

And so we all ended up at the theater to watch the newest animated film called Trolls. (pause) The premise is quite simple…the world is populated by little trolls…colorful little buggers who love to sing and dance…and they all love each other so much that they give each other hugs every 30 minutes.  And they’re cute too…perhaps you remember the little troll dolls that were popular a few years back with their spikey colorful hair.

As the movie goes on, we’re introduced to a bunch of these trolls, led by the amazingly upbeat and optimistic Princess Poppy…and we eventually meet the one grumpy Troll named Branch…who’s is the utter contrast to everyone else…they’re brightly colored, he’s dull…they love to sing and dance, he refuses…and he’s a bit of a doomsday prepper, because he believes that their one enemy, the Burgins, will eventually find them and eat them.

And predictably, that’s pretty much what happens, as the Burgins capture several of Poppy’s friends, and she sets off with Branch in order to rescue them.  The rest of the plot is pretty predictable as well…but eventually, all of the Trolls are captured and everyone loses hope…and with it, they become sad…downcast…and their color fades…and now I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, but rather I’m gonna switch gears…because the notion of hope is present in our gospel today.

As we are reaching the end of the church year, we’ve gotten to the point where we commonly start hearing Jesus teach about the end times…and that’s exactly what’s going on today.  Jesus is sitting in the temple courtyard…surrounded by countless Jewish people who are there for the pending Passover festival…and some of them make comment about the beauty of the temple.

This sparks off several different teachings from Jesus…all of them aimed at what is to come…things to expect…realities to look for that will, in fact, precede the end.  And as per usual, the people want some clarification…Teacher…when will this be and what will be the sign that its about to take place? (pause) I think we all share in that curiosity…we all want to know…when will it be…what will it look like…and how do we get ready for it.

But what I think is interesting is that Jesus tells them some stuff that going to happen…but he also says this…these things must take place, but the end is not immediate. (pause) And even though he talks about some other pretty dire sounding things to come…he doesn’t actually talk about “the end.”

I found myself thinking a lot about this whole deal throughout the week…and I kept asking the question “what prompted this in the first place?” And it seems to stem from the initial prediction that Jesus makes, that there will come a day when that beautiful temple that the people were marveling at will no longer be standing…and they freak out about it.

And that right there, is what caught my attention…because why would this be so shocking for them? If they remember their history, this beautiful temple they’re looking at is actually the 2nd one…the original temple built by King Solomon had been destroyed…and eventually rebuilt…so you’d think that the idea that it might be destroyed again, while discouraging…shouldn’t be that devastating…and so I found myself wondering just why they see it as so dire.

But then I realized just how central the temple is to this culture…it is the epitome of all things Holy…it is LITERALLY the house of the Lord and the inner room…the holy of holies…that’s where God lives among the people….this is where they go to perform their ritual sacrifices…this is where the festivals occur…this is the place that at one time housed the ark and the 10 commandments…this is…quite literally, where they found God and therefore all of their hope rested on it. (pause)

Now imagine the source of your hope being destroyed…how would that make you feel?  Or if someone told you that the thing that you are placing all of your hope and trust in wasn’t going to last…that it would ultimately fail you. Wouldn’t you be devastated by that? Wouldn’t that seem like the end of the world? (pause)
I think it would…and so perhaps this is why Jesus starts talking about what the people can expect…things that will come BEFORE THE END…not in the midst of it. Wars…insurrections…Nation against nation…kingdom against kingdom…earthquakes, famine, plague…opposition…family members turning on one another…friends and relatives…and hate…hate…hate. (pause)
So let’s recap…the loss of an individuals source of hope…devastating cultural events…all of it leading towards the end times. (pause)

And I couldn’t help but think that this is the same feeling that a lot of people had this past Wednesday morning…I remember reading the gospel lesson when I sat down at my desk that morning…and I thought to myself that there are a lot of people out there who take the results of this election as the herald of the end times…and then I thought about it a little more and realized that if the election had gone the other way…then people on the other side of the coin might just have thought the same thing.

And maybe, depending on your point of view, it still feels like that. Many people placed a lot of hope in results of this election…only to find that the source of that hope has crumbled…and we don’t have to think very hard about how utterly divisive this election has been for our country to be reminded of Jesus words about nation rising against nation, and relationships being damaged, if not destroyed by our opinions and choices… and the aftermath…at least so far doesn’t seem much better…the craziness and the ugliness might have switched topics…but its still getting thrown around on both sides.

The reactions of different people to this election cross a wide spectrum…there are extremes ON BOTH ENDS of that spectrum who are reacting in some pretty foolish ways…and I’m not condoning either extreme…but then somewhere in the middle is pretty much everyone else… a lot of other people who are just trying to make the best of the situation that they have found themselves in. And I also know that when each of us stepped into that voting booth on Tuesday, we had our reasons for the choice that we made. (pause)

What I have found troubling in the days since…has been the question of how do we care for one another in the midst of our division…and have we placed so much stock…so much emphasis…so much belief in my candidate winning or losing that we fail to see one another as people…that we fail to see one another as our neighbors?

And admittedly, I’ve been troubled at the words that I’ve heard that people just need to get over it…that they need to get over the elation that they feel because their person won…or that they need to get over the shock and the sadness that they feel because their person lost.

And this might come as blunt for me to say…but how dare we tell someone how they can feel?  Not long ago we as a community were united in grief at the death of a young man…we shared sadness and pain and anger…and no one batted an eye at it.

But this is different…we are not united in our reaction to this election…far from it…and there are people sitting quite close to you now…who voted differently…and who feel quite differently about the result…You might not like how they chose to respond…but if they aren’t breaking any laws…they have the freedom to react how they react.

And if you don’t appreciate me saying that, its okay…it might ruffle some feathers…but even if we happen to disagree on this, I hope that we can continue to care for one another…because that is the example given to us by God, that we are all called to follow (pause)
The glory of the gospel is that each and every one of us fail in life…we place our hope in something that fails…and often times that source of failure is ourselves but regardless, when we have placed our faith and our hope in something of this world, it will ultimate fail.

But God is not of this world…and Jesus, though he was in our world…he is not of this world either…He is something else…and he has overcome the failings of this world…and he has done it for everyone…because he loves everyone and he tells us that we are to do the same…his words for us…his teachings…his commands is that we love God and we love our neighbor…and we do this when we realize that our neighbors all share in the same distinction as we do…being created in the divine image of God, whether they look different or talk different or think different…or heaven forbid…if they vote different.

And part of loving our neighbor is to actually see our neighbor…not as an obstacle but as a person who is worthy of love and acceptance and dignity. (pause)

And so, as we look forward into the unknown future…that unknown that Jesus doesn’t really give us much insight about in today’s glimpse towards the end times…let me say this…You matter…you are seen and you are heard and you are loved.  For those who’s candidate came up short, and you feel as if the country has taken a big step backwards, you are seen and you are heard and you are loved.  For those of you who’s candidate won, and you feel as if the country is taking a step forwards, you are seen and you are heard and you are loved. (pause)

And remember, that through Christ, this broken world is already redeemed…and we are invited into the work of reconciliation. Sometimes that’s pretty easy to see…but sometimes its not…and we need to support one another in that.

Remember Trolls…where I left off…they had all lost their hope…and with it their color faded…but since its super predictable, Branch…the one who refusing to sing…starts to in the midst of their depair.

The song he sings is an oldie but a goody…True Colors…He sings to Poppy hoping to encourage her…and eventually she starts singing back. Last Monday, I was driving to synod event and I listened to this song over and over again…and I began to hear the voice of God…saying over and over again I see you in the midst of all this…and then I heard a voice answer back…finally able to join with God in the work of creating beauty in the midst of despair.

I’m going to play for you now…so listen to the words…and hear God talking to you…telling you that you are seen and you are loved…and know that sometimes we are already able to join in the song…but sometimes we aren’t quite ready… (Play the song)

You are seen, you are heard, and you are loved. May we all join in that song. Amen.

In It For the Long Haul 11-15-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 13:1-8, I explore the apocalyptic nature of Jesus’ teachings to his disciples about the end times. He assures us that dark times will occur, but that we do not need to be afraid.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

It goes without saying that to the best of my knowledge, I have never been pregnant…but, I have encountered many individuals who were, and inevitably, when in conversation with someone, particularly when they are nearing the end of their pregnancy, the question always comes up…When’s it gonna happen?

And the vast majority of the time, almost across the board, the answer is “I don’t know.” Because the birth of a baby pretty well happens unexpectedly…it can’t be predicted….for the most part. (pause)

In our family though…that wasn’t the case…Because my son prefers, at times anyway, to do things the hard way, he ended up being breach…resulting in a planned c-section birth. The closest we got to being surprised was a trip to a specialist in Sioux Falls towards the end of my wife’s pregnancy that COULD have resulted in Jack being born about a month early…something we found out the day before going to that appointment…and so we had the surprise of “this time tomorrow, you might just have a baby.” (pause) But as my story has already revealed, that wasn’t the case, and so on January 15th, 2004 we checked into the hospital at 6am…and by 7:45…we had a baby…Quick and easy…seriously…c-sections…I highly recommend it.

But, on the flip side…that’s not the norm is it? I found that out about 24 hours later. We were still in the hospital and would be for a couple more days yet…and so we were witnesses to the other happens in the OB department. It happened to be a fairly quiet period in that department…but, at 6am the day after Jack was born…another lady was induced…and her labor began…and she walked that hallway…up and down…up and down…over and over again…lap after lap…hour after hour.

As her labor progressed…as those labor pains came and went…that poor woman walked that hallway…husband in tow…for 25.5 hours…finally, according to the report of a nurse that filled us in…at 7:30am the NEXT day, she went into delivery, where she pushed for 2.5 more hours…until ultimately having to undergo and emergency c-section…and it was seeing this from the outskirts…just watching her walk the halls that I discovered just how extensive…how long term…labor can be…once it starts, trust me, you are in it for the long haul…and that first contraction…is just the beginning. (pause)
And now in a moment of full disclosure…I am FULLY aware that I have never, nor shall I ever…experience something like this for myself…Ladies…you are champions…and you are WAY tougher than us guys can ever hope to be. (pause)
Now…all that being said…it probably comes as no great shock that I connect this story in with Jesus’ closing words in today’s lesson…this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. An interesting analogy to be sure…especially considering that those involved in the conversation…Jesus, Peter, James, John, and Andrew…all happen to be members of the male persuasion and not a single one of them would have experienced those birth pangs for themselves…nor had any of them sat through it with a wife…as midwives were all the rage in Jesus time…and husbands got kicked out the house until it was all said and done. And yet…as Jesus is addressing the “end times” this is the analogy that he uses.

But before I get into that, I need to back up…perhaps share a little background…here we are towards the end of Mark’s gospel…and as in all of the gospels…we hear about the end times…these different apocalyptic messages within the final week of Jesus’ life…this is no different…though perhaps it’s a little more fitting that here in Mark…its chapter 13…lucky number 13 as we hear somewhat cryptic messages about what is to come at that unknown point somewhere out in the future. (pause)
But the funny part of all this…is what sparks off the conversation in the first place. After walking out of the temple for the last time here in Mark’s gospel…one of his disciples…we’re not sure which one, but one of them takes a gander at the incredible size of the buildings…and the individual stones that make them up…some of which were as large as 40 feet long and 20 high…and that disciple can’t help but marvel…at least for second…until Jesus rains on his parade by saying “there will come a day when all this will be gone. It’s all going to be destroyed.”

And its at that point, that Jesus gets the million dollar question. “When will this be? And what will be the sign that it is about to be accomplished?” (pause) Then Jesus takes a breath, and spends the remainder of the chapter 33 verses… 6 different sections…all aimed at the end times. (pause)

Now admittedly…apocalyptic texts always give me a little bit of pause…but at this time of year, each and every year in the lectionary…we get them. Earlier in the week, I was in conversation, and the individual that I was talking to reminded me just how much I tend to cringe at this type of text…that its one of my least favorite things to discuss…much less to preach on.

And it is…but I do have to say that this year, compared with last year, is a little easier. Last year, we got apocalyptic texts for about 4 weeks straight…but now this year…its just this one…just one week…just one text…and yet, it raises the exact same grimace for me.

But why is that? Good question. What is it about apocalyptic texts that tends to bug me so much? And the answer…the typical reaction of those who hear it…I’ll be honest, as a pastor there are certain types of scripture that illicit a pretty normal response no matter who it is that you are engaging with…and inevitably when we get started on this dire predictions for the unknown end times…I know I’m gonna get the question “What’s it gonna be like? When will it happen? Is it already going on?”

And the tricky part about this from my end of the discussion, is how many times can you say “I don’t know” before people start to wonder if you have any idea what you’re talking about…but the long and short of it is that we don’t know. (pause) Scripture gives us little glimpses…but there is no roadmap to when it will occur…there is no indication of if it will be short…or if will be long…if we’ll all know in an instant or if news will need to spread….the thing is…that we just don’t know.

And yet…we all want to don’t we…all of us…I think we all hear texts like this and wish that we had some indication of when its all going to happen…but despite an entire chapter devoted to recognizing the reality of the end times…that at some point that God the father has ordained, Jesus will come back and there WILL be a new heaven a new earth…and those who have died WILL join Jesus in the resurrection….despite all that…Jesus really doesn’t give us much to go on does he?

“Jesus…when will this be? And what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (pause) Wars…nation against nation…earthquakes…famine. (pause) Come on Jesus, that’s not a ton to go on here…and perhaps we turn on the nightly news and it seems like this stuff is already going on…and you know what…it has been…because wars and natural disasters and hunger…that’s all been around since Jesus day…and so it seems that the disciples who heard his message that day…and everyone who has read it in the scriptures all the way up to us today…we pretty much all have the same thought that Jesus…you’re warnings…they don’t really reveal very much because we already live in that reality. (pause)

And it that’s the case…then I guess Jesus could come back any second couldn’t he? And I don’t know about you but there are plenty of times when I watch the news or hear the reports and think to myself that it would a whole lot easier if he would…Come on Jesus…enough is enough…let’s get this show on the road here. (pause)
And you know what…followers of Christ have had that reaction as long as there have been followers of Christ. His earliest followers…some of those who literally walked along with him…they thought he’d be back during their lifetime…and many of the other 1st century converts though the same thing…so much so that the Apostle Paul had to write the letter of 1st Thessalonians to ensure them that the death of believers was not a bad sign…and this notion has continued through countless dark times for the past 2000 years.

And in the midst of all this, Jesus reminds us…quite calmly…do not be alarmed…not when you hear of wars and disasters…Not when you hear of freak November tornadoes…or wildfires in Colorado…or earthquakes in California…or hurricanes in the southeast…or devastating storms in the north east…Jesus tells us that when you hear of these things…don’t be afraid…for they are only the beginning of the birth pangs.

Birth takes a long time…and for that woman in the midst of it…feeling those devastating labor pains wracking her body…it probably feels like an eternity. (pause) Likewise, Jesus tells us that we need to be in it for the long haul…because these devastating events…they’re only the beginning. (pause)
That’s what he told the disciples 2000 years ago…and that’s what he’s still telling us today…isn’t it something that we share the same reaction as Jesus’ own disciples when we start to think about the end times? But maybe it shouldn’t come as a shock to us…because its human nature…we want to know…we want to understand…even that stuff that’s beyond our ability.

But remember this…Jesus doesn’t seem interesting in determining when its going to happen…but rather, he wants us to be prepared. That’s what the vast majority of Mark chapter 13 is about…be prepared. Now that the gospel has found you…now that the Holy Spirit has worked within you…now that Christ’s work in our reality has brought you into faith…simply live each and every day hopeful in the promise that through Christ you have been given eternal life…whatever that looks like. Live today like Jesus is going to come back tomorrow…even if all signs point to the notion that it won’t happen during our lifetime.

As followers of Christ we have been given the promise that we don’t need to fear…not the disasters describes in the end times…not the trials and tribulations that we face in our day to day lives…and ultimately not even death…because God has claimed us in the here and now…and that promise goes right on through to eternity.

So when you start to think about the end times…try not to stress…because remember that God’s in this for the long haul…and he’s promised to bring you along for the ride. Amen.