Worship Theme: Faith Braces for the End of Time
Sermon Theme: Stand Firm to the End
Jesus predicted that there will be bad junk in our lives and in our world, but couched in his predictions is the promise that he will prepare us for the ministry of sharing his loving message. Based on Luke 21:5-19, if we pay attention to Jesus and his promises, we will “stand firm to the end.” November 13, 2022.
Howling winds, twenty-foot waves, sea spray obliterating your vision, you wrap your arms around the ship’s mast and hang on for dear life. Everyone else is clutching the guardrail, seasick, bracing for the big one that will either capsize the ship or sweep you into the black abyss. Then, above the roar of the wind and waves you hear a firm and steady voice, “Keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost” (Acts 27:22-24). “How does he do it? How can this preacher-teacher guy named Paul, who I heard had been in jail on trumped up charges for two years, have such courage? I wish I had half of his confidence. How can he hang in there, and, if these are our last breathing moments, …stand firm to the end.”
God preserves us amid reality
Sue was convinced that being a Christian means good health and then got cancer. Fred thought that being a Christian means a financial easy street and then fell below the cut line when his company down-sized. Millie believed that being a Christian means happy relationships and then found out that her spouse was unfaithful. That’s devastating and leads to doubt, frustration, questioning, maybe even the disaster of losing trust in God. But it does not have to be that way.
The sun inched toward the horizon on that April Tuesday late afternoon just three days before he died. Our Lord Jesus had spent the entire day in the courtyard of Jerusalem’s temple complex. Every major faction of his opponents got in his face and challenged him in order to make him look foolish in front of the crowds. They failed. At the end of that exhausting day Jesus and his disciples withdrew from the city and wound their way up the long ridge east of the city called the Mount of Olives. As they turned on one of the switchbacks, they glanced over their shoulders and caught the gleaming rays of the setting sun glinting off the golden roof of the temple. Wow! What a sight! Like seeing the skyline of Manhattan for the first time. “Look, Teacher, at those magnificent buildings!” Jesus shocked his followers, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Why in all the world would he make such a prediction? True enough, the nation of Israel in general had rejected him as Messiah and deserved his righteous wrath. But why tell his disciples that the city would be destroyed?
You’ve heard this before. Like many others the followers of Jesus hoped that the Messiah would be an earthly king, wipe out the Romans, and set up his royal throne in Jerusalem. They knew Jesus had the power to do it. They had seen him change water into wine, tell a lame man to take up his mat and walk, multiply bread and fish, cleanse lepers. Hey! He could make life on earth really cushy. “Look at those buildings, Lord! Wouldn’t your throne look good in that gleaming, golden temple?” Jesus cut them off. He had not come into the world so that people could have a cushy, comfortable life before being lowered into a grave. No! He came so that all who trust in him can burst out of the grave like he did and live with God in heaven. So, he told his disciples, “I want you to understand the realities of this world. Sure, you can enjoy it. There will be good times, happy times. But there will also be problems and pain. Jesus predicted, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events.
Four years ago, we called Pastor Hackmann to leave his congregation outside of Anchorage and serve here. Not long after, I phoned him to see if his family and church family were OK after a seven-point-one Richter scale earthquake hit a few miles west of that church, one of the fourteen thousand five hundred eighty-six earthquakes in 2018. I’m sure you were glued to what was happening during hurricane Ian, one of thirteen named Atlantic hurricanes so far this year. In spite of modern machinery and technology, every minute eleven people die of hunger or malnutrition. Since 1900, there have been one hundred twenty-eight wars. Unlike folks who claim to have prediction abilities, Jesus’ predictions not only all come true but also have a purpose, helping us get a grip on reality so that we are reminded that this broken world is not the be-all-end-all of your existence. God has something much better in mind. So, when you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away,” and he added, “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death … But not a hair of your head will perish.”
Wait just a second! Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction? How can Jesus say, “They will put some of you to death … but not a hair of your head will perish”? The answer lies in his care for us. He cares so much that he said in an earlier sermon, “The very hairs of your head are numbered” (Luke 12:7), whether we’ve got many or few. He cares so much that he provides cold and heat, rain and sunshine for the seasons to come and go and for the crops to grow. He cares so much that he has his eye on each little sparrow flitting through the barn as cows are milked. He cares so much that he gave brains to scientists to figure out how to pasteurize milk and get it into cartons for us to drink and how to get one hundred sixty-five-point-four bushels of corn per acre compared to eighty-four-point-five bushels per acre fifty years ago. He cares so much that he lets us hear from parents or friends or co-workers or spouse what we’ve done wrong so we can take those wrongs to him and plead, “Lord, have mercy on me.” He cares so much that he yanked those sins off of your record and mine and hoisted them onto his own shoulders. He cares so much that he allowed wicked people to put him on a cross to suffer torture for those sins, torture which you and I can’t imagine but surely deserved. He cares so much that even if our bodies fail and die, even if we’re killed in a tragic accident, our souls live on with him in perfect joy. So, no matter how many apps you add to your phone, no matter how funky the concerts you enjoy at the Fiserv Forum, no matter how much money you make, Jesus predicted that there will be bad junk in our lives and in our world, but couched in his predictions is the promise that he will preserve us amid reality with his commitment, “Stand firm! Your soul is safe with me forever!”
God prepares us for ministry
If you look up the word minister in an online dictionary, one of the first references is to someone in the clergy, in full-time church work. For that reason, in our Lutheran church circles, we try to avoid confusion by reserving the word “ministry” for what we called workers do. But in the Bible the word “ministry” is a general term for service to God and others that flows from a heart filled with gratefulness for God’s love. In that sense, all of you have a ministry, a life of service to God and others.
The most obvious way we can bring honor to God and the most loving thing we can do in service to others is to introduce them to Jesus’ mercy. But that raises up all kinds of concerns and worries about what to say and when to say it, especially if the audience is someone whom we think might not be interested, or some relative with whom there may be emotional static, or someone whom we view as scary because he or she has authority over us.
Luke, who like a rock star was known only by his first name, authored this eponymous Gospel account. But he was no rock star. He was a physician who had been a traveling companion with the apostle Paul and was on scene as Paul told the truth about Jesus to Roman governors, a king, and appealed to Caesar to hear his case of being unfairly jailed, that Caesar being none other than the notorious, narcissistic Nero. Luke must have wondered, “How does he do it? How does Paul get such courage to stand up, look those high-and-mighties in the eye, and talk about their sin and need for a Savior when his reputation, freedom, and perhaps even his life is on the line?”
Luke himself recorded the answer which came from the mouth of the Savior and takes the air out of those fear balloons. Jesus told his first followers and he tells us that by our lives and lips people are going to know that we do not go along with any and every whim that floats people’s boats and makes them feel good under the umbrella of “We’re free to do what we want as long as we don’t hurt anybody.” We’ll need courage to carry out that ministry because who’s to say how long it will be before you or I get sued for tactfully, lovingly identifying sin as sin? But that’s exactly what Jesus gives us, “They will seize on you and persecute you … You will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so, you will bear testimony to me”, in other words, “You’ll probably get hauled into court, but don’t worry. I’ll be with you. Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict … Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish (14-19a NIV). By your endurance you will gain your lives” (19b NASB). Jesus predicted that there will be bad junk in our lives and in our world, but couched in his predictions is the promise that he will prepare us for the ministry of sharing his loving message, “Stand firm! Your soul is safe with me forever.”
A raging storm, a scary diagnosis, a verbal attack, a horrible accident. The adrenal glands kick into gear, the heart rate pounds, breath comes in short gasps. How will we make it? How will we survive? How could the apostle Paul stand firm and hold on during a torrential storm at sea? How could he stand firm as he testified about Jesus before powerful, important rulers and authorities? “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you’” (Acts 27:22-24). Pay attention to Jesus and his promises, and you will stand firm to the end. Amen.
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