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Sunday sermon 1 December 2013 (Advent 1) – Hope

(The Word Isaiah saw – and hope today)

Readings:

Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24:36-44

Isa 2:1  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3  Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isa 2:5  Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Rom 13:13  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mat 24:37  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:42  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Mat 24:43  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 

Sermon.

Mat 24:43  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

We’ve been burgled twice in my life – that we know about. Who knows what else has walked out of our house over the years. During times when we’ve opened our home to waifs and strays – sadly other things have walked too. That has not changed our commitment to care.

When we were first married – 30 years ago next year – thieves got in to our place while we slept – and came into our bedroom and removed things. Thankfully we slept. In Wellington people got into the house in the middle of the day – and carried quantities of things out. No one questioned them somehow – or even noticed. The funny thing was that we didn’t notice either when we got home – we’d been sitting the lounge room for a while and then our children came in  – and wanted to know where the TV was.

The unexpected is exactly that. SURPRISE! And even if you plan a surprise party – someone lets the cat out of the bag. If you’re lucky – the person will not pick up on the signs. Hindsight though is a wonderful gift. You realise afterwards why people were behaving differently.

Advent is about waiting – about being prepared – it is a future looking time. It’s not a time of repentance like Lent. Lent is like spring cleaning – spiritually speaking.

Advent is about openness and anticipation.

And this week we focus on hope.

And we turn to the passage from Isaiah to get a sense of how powerful hope is.

Here it is again: Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

What is even more powerful is how this prophecy is introduced: Isa 2:1  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: (NIV)

The NIV short changes us here. Listen to the more literal New Revised Standard Version: Isa 2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. (NRSV)

How do you “see” a word? There was no text message or twitter option – we can see words today more readily. In fact some people exist in a word of written conversation – and don’t actually know what a telephone is for. You have to remind kids that they can phone people for free!

Lots of images are visual words. The doves you have today. The Christmas tree that we will hang them on. The anticipation portrayed in the wrapping paper that hides our Christmas presents.

So too body language – it speaks.

But Isaiah sees a word. There is a visionary sense here. This is Isaiah 2.

When you read chapter one – it’s not a pretty picture. It begins like this: Isa 1:2  Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. Isa 1:3  The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Isa 1:4  Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

Bribery, violence, unfaithfulness, wretchedness, terrible treatment of the poor. And the prophet says this: Isa 1:15  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; Isa 1:16  wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, Isa 1:17  learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

There are glimpses of redemption though. The very next verse says this: Isa 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

But then you read these words: Isa 1:21  See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers! Isa 1:22  Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Isa 1:23  Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Isa 1:24  Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.

It’s much like today – people far from God – violence and rebellion.

But he says a new word: Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

But who will believe this:

This word he sees – is on the wall to be seen today. Can you tell me where this is?

UN Isaiah wall reduced

Who can believe that? Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building. Who believes these words across the street in the General Assembly as they debate sanctions against Iran, as they wring their hands over 100,000 killed in Syria, and chastise the United States for inhumane treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo?  (Barbara Lundblad – commentary on Isaiah 2:1-15)

That’s the thing about hope. It’s not obvious – but you can still see it. In the Christian scriptures Hebrews put it like this when speaking of faith: Heb 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

(NIV84)  Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

(NLT)  Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

  • Hope today – is symbolised by the lighting of the first Advent candle.
  • It is a dream we have – that can become a reality
  • It can change how we cope with huge challenges and struggles – the knowledge that we too can see a Word – the Word Jesus coming into the world as a baby to bring hope
  • Hope galvanises us and strengthens us in the face of death itself. After all that is our scariest certainty – I was reminded of that again this week when we went to Rosedale. There were fewer in the hospital section than last month. Some were out, but the helper said to me: “we’ve lost a few since you were last here”. Makes going there even more significant really.

People in war torn Syria, and in every other conflict zone – have a greater need to see a word of hope.

Walter Brueggeman makes the connection:  in Texts for Preaching: The vision of Isaiah is “an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet.  That is the function of promise (and therefore of Advent) in the life of faith.  Under promise, in Advent, faith sees what will be that is not yet.”  (A lectionary commentary based on the NRSV – Year A.)

So if this about hope – then where is the solution? Do we just hang in there until Jesus comes and sorts it all out?

No – our very life is found in the one who gives hope.

Even for Isaiah – 8 centuries before Jesus (and like Micah) they knew the source:

Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3  Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Life comes from where God is – in their case it would be Zion. For us it is Christ – we turn to Him who is the living Word of God – light of the world – Good shepherd – bread of life – giving living water.

Isaiah says in verse 3:

He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

We have Jesus the Word of God – we have the Word of God in the Scriptures – He speaks through them to us.

We too are to walk in his paths. Living and walking are the same – remember the first Christians were called people of “The Way”.

While we wait – always ready in case like a thief in the night it all happens – we have a life to walk! Note that we don’t sit around. Listen to these New Testament verses:

Rom_6:4  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

2Co_5:7  for we walk by faith, not by sight.

2Jn_1:6  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it.

And my favourite (from last week): 1Jn_1:7  but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

And hope is part of our walk. The most famous passage and one of my favourites is this one:

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The future hope as come to us already in Christ, and through His indwelling Holy Spirit. For this reason Peter writes these important words on our being “good news” or evangelists today: But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for for the hope that you have! (1 Peter 3:15)

And of course Paul, talking of the mystery of the Gospel which he passionately lived for and eventually died for says this: “… the glorious riches of this mystery: Christ in you the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

May we be living words – living letters, to use Paul’s term – words that people can see – as they see the living Word Christ in us – and as we extend His presence and hope in our world.

Amen!

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Sunday Sermon 2 December – Be alert and ready

Readings: Jer 33:14 – 16   1 Thess 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

Message

So it’s the beginning of Advent. The season of silliness for some – but for Christians a time of serious reflection and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Advent means “arrival”.

Today we look at the second coming of Jesus as we prepare for the celebration of his first coming.

The reading today from Luke 21 is scary apolcalyptic stuff. Followed by

  • A parable
  • Some warnings
  • Some great encouragement.

THE PARABLE

The bonus parable of the fig tree is not very exciting or profound like other parables which are rich in meaning.

It’s really a warning.  Jesus really is telling his listeners in this Luke passage to read the signs. They were signs of the Kingdom. He goes on in verse 31:  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Remember last week – Christ the King Sunday? The Kingdom concept his central again. The Kingdom had come and was still coming

The Gospel reading is full of interesting bits today of course: Like the next verses.

Luk 21:32  “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Some of this is fulfilled already. Some things did happen in that generation – like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Romans. (See verses 20-21). Most Bible scholars believe that these passages have prophetic parts that are already fulfilled and major apocalyptic parts that point us to the future.

For both the people of that day and for us and followers in the future there is encouragement and hope.  Take for example that most encouraging and Presbyterian verse focusing on the words of Jesus (Presbyterians place the Bible at the centre of life and faith):

Luk 21:33  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The power of the word of God – the word of Christ – its unchanging nature and truth. This in itself is a sermon brewing away. For now – what Jesus says remains true forever! So don’t give up on him! Trust and believe!

THE WARNINGS

And especially for today and our generation – with patience and watchfulness, I think that God does have a word for us. It’s verse 34. Listen and look carefully:

Luk 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

We always think of Lent as a solemn time of reflection as we prepare to face the terrible truth that it was for our miserable skins and sins that Jesus died.

Advent is also a time of reflection and a stark reminder that people were supposed to get ready when Jesus came. In fact the Eastern Orthodox Church treats it just like Lent. Very seriously and not in the Christmassy kind of tinselly way that we do.

Of course at that first Christmas there were people who were ready and open to God and did respond – the Marys and Josephs listen to the Spirit speaking through dreams and the clear voice of angels, the shepherds who had heaps of singing angels getting their attention, and later the wise men who were carefully studying signs as well.

We could be enjoying those nice stories today but no – we are faced with the prospect of his second coming – and the piercing question about our lack of readiness.

Listen again to verse 34:  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap”.

This is another one of those sermons where we think “if only so and so were here to listen to this!).

Warning 1: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down with Dissipation (gluttony, self-indulgence and wastefulness).

Our hearts may not be weighed down with dissipation (which is self-indulgence and wasteful living) but there is something for all here – ESPECIALLY at Christmas where people do overdo things. And of course in the wealthy parts of the world we do waste so much!

Warning 2: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by drunkenness. That needs little explanation.

There is a local problem in our nation of too much alcohol – and especially binge drinking. It’s a scourge – an affliction.

If this does not really involve us – look at Petersen’s translation The Message here which goes like this: “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.”

Sound familiar?

The third one is for the purists and tea totallers here who are not often gluttonous and don’t drink:

Warning 3: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by the the anxieties of life.

The anxieties of life do weigh down our hearts.

Anxious about so much, we forget Paul’s injunction in Philippians 4:6-7:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So again: Luke 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

You will be caught unawares. The day will come.

AVOID SPECULATION

Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in speculating about when the day will come. After all Mark in a similar passage adds this reminder to stop speculation:  “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

It seems to me, however, that if it does not come in our lifetime, there’s this amazing leveller called death that will come. Remember John 14 from the funeral this week (for those who were here)? I go to prepare a place for you…

We need to be just as ready. We never know when our lives will end in any case.

Jesus carries on in verses 35 and 36: For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.

It’s about being ready

About the right perspective: 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.”

IT IS A SERIOUS MATTER.

I remember well one of the brothers  in our lives – from years ago –  who was so excited about the return of Jesus that he would jump for joy at the announcement on the news of every earthquake. His wife was far more pastoral, and prayed for the poor souls stuck under the rubble. He just wanted Jesus to come back!

For the early church – ravaged by persecution and destruction – the coming was also longed for. MARANATHA was their prayer. Come Lord! (1 Cor 16:22)

The word to them was really about patience. They needed courage. Verse 28 was for them a great verse:  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

O my. What a powerful verse – and how good for us too! Stand up and lift up your heads – for your redemption is drawing near!

Redemption is at the heart of this whole story. Like Christ the King ushering in his Kingdom, it’s a word that crops up a lot.

This is not “redemption” as in the letters of Paul – a theology of the cross.

This redemption means rescue. And rescue from the mess they would find themselves in.

Holding on for God to come

He is coming

Maranatha!

For us today – we can combine verse 28 and verse 36 in a simple recipe for life:

Stand up and lift your heads – and watch and pray.

For us this also means:

  • He is our redeemer It’s about perspective and confidence – that God is the one who makes our lives different and that he will come through for us.
  • He will do it! (Psalm 37:5-6) – whatever it is we are hoping for him to do he will come through for us.
  • Don’t be distracted and weighed down! And for most of us it’s the anxieties of life (v34) that can weigh our hearts down! Be careful, says Jesus! “That day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”
  • Be alert and ready! The trap imagery is a little different from the other simile “like a thief in the night” which we find in Paul’s writings in 1 Thessalonians 5:2
  • Trust Him even if your world is shaken. You get the idea. It’s about watchfulness and readiness. However our lives are shaken – we are to be alert.

But mainly it’s about Hope!

The first candle of Advent which we lit today is the candle of Hope.

As we Stand up and lift (y)our heads – and watch and pray – we will be  focussed on the King who came in Jesus and who will come again.

May the glory always go to him!

Amen.