Sunday, December 3, 2017

Anticipate Joy

We look forward to the coming of Christ into every aspect of our daily lives, as well as in the Second Coming on the last day.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” Mark 13:33.

     We look forward to the coming of Christ because we know that he loves us and cares about us and has our best interests at heart. Some people may not look at the coming of Christ through the same lens.  Some may look with trepidation because, from their perspective, they might feel like God is going to condemn or embarrass or judge them negatively.  Part of our great mission is to encourage people to look at Christ the way we are experiencing him, as one who loves us. The more we love God the less we will be afraid of why he is coming and what he will do.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
For fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18 (ESV)

                Every word of God has an everlasting meaning. Jesus invites us to listen closely to what God is saying to us. He challenges us to concentrate, to pay attention, and to focus in on the things that are most important to us. We want to hear what God is calling us to, and to follow the divine leadings. We care about who and what we love. We focus our attention and our resources, our work and our prayer on the things we care about. Things we don’t care about tend to drift away, and we let them because we don’t care anyway.  Unfortunately, we sometimes realize too late that we should have cared more.
A powerful Old Testament image of prophecy is that of watchman on a tower or on a wall, whose job is to issue a warning should an enemy approach (Ezekiel 3:16-21). If the watchman is paying attention and issues fair warning, then it is up those who are warned to respond appropriately. But the watchman who fails to issue the warning is culpable for what happens to the victims. Similarly, we are watching, not for fear of an enemy but for the love of Christ.  We are calling attention to Christ so no one will miss the blessings of God.  Ours is a call to joyful celebration as we anticipate the coming of our Savior.

Jesus included prayer as an important part of our watchfulness. Some people make prayer seem almost like a dark art.  Prayer is often treated as something we do when times are the bleakest, when everything is at its worst.   But Christ invites us to pray for wholeness in every dimension of our lives. Jesus taught us to pray with joyful confidence for all our spiritual and temporal needs. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we can expect to receive from God what we ask for in the same way we can expect our earthly parents to respond (Matthew 7:7-11). On the way to the cross, he said that the reason God wants to answer our prayers is so that our “joy may be complete” (John 16:24).

We really believe God loves us.  We really believe Christ is coming to bring good things for us, now and in our future. When we pray with an attitude of joy, we experience prayer as a sweet moment to engage with Christ and with the spirits of other believers. We unite to lift up the whole Body of Christ, even those members in their desperation, even our family and friends in their trials and difficulties, and even ourselves in our questions.

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
the joys I feel, the bliss I share
of those whose anxious spirits burn
with strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
where God my Savior shows his face,
and gladly take my station there,
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer! (William W. Walford, 1845).

Derived from the sermon on Mark 13:24-37
preached December 3, 2017 at Briensburg UMC.

Photo by Gerd Altmann. “Christmas Background.” 2017.
Photograph.  Pixabay. Web. 2 December 2017.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Treat each other like Christ the King

All the nations will be gathered and each will be judged according to the way we have treated the most vulnerable among our populations.

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me… Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Matthew 25:40,45
The judgment scene depicting the division of the sheep from the goats stands out among the several passages in the Bible pertaining to the judgment. This is a picture Jesus paints of himself as the one who is the judge, not only of individuals but of nations.

          He has sounded forth the trumpet
               that shall never call retreat;
          He is sifting out the hearts of men
               before His judgment seat;
          Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him!
               be jubilant, my feet;
          Our God is marching on.
(Julia W. Howe, Battle Hymn of the Republic, 1861)

     Jesus listed certain criteria for the Judgement.  Like a teacher getting students ready for a test, or a judge ordering preparation for further evaluation, the issues of concern are clearly presented.  At the Judgement of the Nations, all individuals and their constituency groups will be judged accordingly. The list can be summed up with the Golden Rule:

          Do for others what you want them to do for you:
          this is the meaning of the Law of Moses
          and of the teachings of the prophets.
Matthew 7:12 (GNT)

     Jesus elevated this universal concept with his command to love others not only as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40), but as Christ loves us (John 13:34-35).  Jesus provided us the checklist of what is going to be included on the final examination. True, there are other matters of great importance to us and to others in life. Our various theological perspectives emphasize our views and understandings.  How we live out our beliefs reflects our spirituality.  Yet, the topics on this list are the subjects Jesus is looking at most closely as he examines our consciences with us. They form the basis for the judgment of our nations, our communities, our organizations, our congregations, our families, our relationships, and our souls. 

·         Hungry
·         Thirsty
·         Stranger
·         Naked
·         Sick
·         Imprisoned

     How do we answer for our part in the decision-making processes that affect people in these situations? How do we justify our thoughts and our prayers and our voices and our votes? The Bible makes clear that we are accountable as citizens, members, and individuals for our roles in either alleviating or causing the suffering of others. Banding together does not reduce our personal responsibility or culpability, either in active harm or passive neglect. Nor does cooperation diminish our personal joy and eternal reward, either in active assistance or passive support.

     At the end of the day (Judgment Day), it doesn't really matter what everybody else thinks. It matters what Jesus thinks. Christ is looking at us, and has these expectations of us. God is leading us to more purely and perfectly reflect the love of Christ in the way we treat the people around us.

Derived from the sermon on Matthew 25:31-46, November 26, 2017 at Briensburg UMC.