Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reflection on Matthew 1:18-25

Sometimes it is confounding how God manages to make good things take place.

If you were in charge of creating the conditions which would bring about the birthing the savior of the whole world, how would you do it?

Would it be done with high amounts of honor, celebration, and religious piety? A parade maybe would seem fitting.

Would it resemble a respectable, quiet, and orderly Christmas Eve Candlelight celebration? Songs of praise would seem about right.

I only ask, because the reality of the birth seems to be so…not that. Instead it is messy and full of what resembles family dysfunction of the lowest order. I am not even talking about the messy stable here. What I am talking about is the situation in which Joseph, and by extension, Mary, is put.

Let us take a moment to envision the unfolding of the Christmas events from Joseph’s perspective.

Joseph’s world is rocked from a presumed life of peace, stability, and excitement about his future marriage when he finds out that his soon-to-be wife is pregnant.

I can imagine the sleepless nights of tossing and turning as he tries to figure out why his fiancĂ© would do such a thing to him. Staring at the ceiling, he goes back and forth between self-loathing, trying to figure out what he did wrong to push her away into another man’s arms, and anger at how she could have stepped out on him. They had not even slept together yet!

Tossing on his side and staring out the window, he struggles to figure out what to do. He still loves her, so the very thought of throwing her out into the town square to face execution by a barrage of stones and torturous ridicule turns his stomach.

He is not that kind of man. Mercy is more in his character.

Just swallowing the pain, Joseph decides to just allow everything to go away quietly, including the one he loves.

You see what I mean? Life is most likely not turning out like Joseph expected it may.

All he wanted in life, all any on us want in life, is a life of peace, joy, and love. A normal life of work and kids and laughter is not too much to ask for is it? But, as someone who lives an actual life, Joseph find out that the answer is “yes,” yes it is too much to ask.

Life is messier in reality. Why should the birth of the savior be any different?

The birth of Jesus is messy. It is full of drama (the bad kind of drama) and full of heart ache. But, the story does not end in heart ache. God is somehow able to turn the story around from something messy, and redeem it into something beautiful with a small child in which the world will put its hope.

Sometimes messiness is the way God manages to make good things take place.

This business of messy lives sounds a little too familiar does it not?

I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me at the end of the year and proclaimed that they are ready to have this year pass away into oblivion. Death, family struggles, employment struggles, health struggles, political squabbles, friendships strained, and relationships ended or still clinging on in struggle; no matter the reality, most people are ready for the ball to drop and for a new year to turn over.

But, here is a sobering thought. Most of us could not wait for the previous year to pass into oblivion. We know the truth: life in the new year will look a lot like regular life. It will have its own struggles. It will have its own drama. Life is not easy. That never changes.

So, maybe that is why I like this Christmas story so much. It does not point to a perfect story in a perfect fairy-tale land. Instead, the story is real. And, if God can redeem this story, maybe God can redeem our story also.

In the night, by the means of a dream, an angel comes to redeem Joseph’s heartbreaking story. An angel of the Lord puts the whole matter into perspective for Joseph, and allows him to see the situation in a whole new light.

From the angel Joseph learns had not been betrayed. His relationship with Mary is much more secure than he ever imagined. She is with child by the Holy Spirit, and the child will save the world from its sin. He will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

God is with us.

God is with us. Is that not the truth that we tend to forget when life fails to go the way we expect? We forget that even though life is not as peaceful and secure as we would like, God is with us. God can take even our messy lives and transform them into something beautiful and redeeming.

We are not alone in it all. God is with us.

Even when life brings you to a horrible, undeserved death on a cross, this event too can be redeemed by God. God is with us. On the third day, that death can be transformed into a reality of new life and new possibilities. Does it all seem a little messy? Of course, but, that is life! Life is messy.

That makes no difference what-so-ever because it is through the messiness itself that God manages to make good things take place.

In the end of the story, Joseph wakes up from his dream and lives his life in a new way. In reality, nothing has changed. His wife is still pregnant from a source other than himself, the people around him may still look with side-ways glances and disgrace in their thoughts, and he did not ask for any of this! Nothing in reality has changed.

So, what is different? What allows Joseph to get up, take Mary as his wife, and name the baby Jesus, raising him as his own? What has changed?

One thing has changed. More to the point, one person has changed. Joseph has changed. Joseph has been reminded of a powerful truth, God is with us. And, when God is with us, even what appears to be a horrible situation can be transformed into something beautiful.

I pray this day that you also remember that God is with you.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Reflection on Matthew 11:2-11

When you look at the three kings making their way to the Christ child, crowns of gold and gems on their heads and rich gifts in their hands, it is easy to assume that their lives are full and rich.

Following a divine star to their destination, it is easy to assume that the kings are special, with a divine appointment for this royal task of delivering gifts to the savior of the world.

But, if you would take the time to look closely, underneath the distracting shine of the crowns, you would see a different truth. If you looked closely at their faces, you would see the dark circles under their eyes and the struggles of life in the creases of their wrinkled foreheads.

You see, the moment the first king was summoned by the star to travel to Bethlehem, he was sitting all alone in his castle. The light of the star fell upon him as he sat eating alone.

Most days he ate alone, slept alone, and kept his own company. Even his kingdom rarely appealed to him for guidance. He was a lonely king, surrounded by the cold company of his gold.

As he gathered his things to travel to the newborn king, he took some of the gold as a gift in one hand, and carried his loneliness in the other.

Miles away from the first king was the second king who also held a secret underneath the gleaming riches of his crown. The secret had something to do with that crown that shined upon his head. For, when the star shown on him, directing him to travel to see the newborn king, his brow furrowed in worry about the cost of such an expedition.

You see, the truth was that the king had almost no riches, aside from that gilded crown on his head. He was as poor as his people, but he was expected to represent the nation as a rich and powerful leader. How many times had he given up his own dinner completely in order to impress a royal guest?

Giving up the valuable frankincense that was once gifted to him, and giving it to the newborn king was both an honor and a terrible sacrifice.

Still, many miles further was the third king. His kingdom flourished, and he was beloved by his people. All was well. Except that when the star shown on him to lead him to the Christ child, he did not see it. He did not see anything for that matter. He was blind. It was a servant who told the blind king that the star had appeared and summoned him.

How long had it been since the king had seen the faces of his family? How long had it been since he could see his brothers? “Too many years to count,” the king thought to himself. He did not even know where his family was any longer.

Grabbing some myrrh as a gift for the newborn king, and with help from an assistant, he mounted his camel with sadness in his heart and blindness in his eyes.

Now that you know the truth. Now you know not to be distracted by the crowns of gold and gems on the king's heads, and rich gifts in their hands as they arrive and make their way through the door to honor the new king.

The first king bows bearing a gift of gold and loneliness. The second king arrives next to the first, bowing and bearing a gift of frankincense and the worries of someone who is poor. The third king is helped to his position by the servant, and he bears the gift out into the open air ahead, his blindness no secret to anyone in the room.

The child king coos at the sight, and is briefly distracted by the gleam of the gems on the walls. But, soon the child toddles over to the first king, pushes the gold aside and gives the lonely man a hug. It is his first hug in years. The king’s heart melts, and for the first time in years the kings feels a strange and beautiful sense of joy, and belonging.

Soon, the child takes the bag of gold, pulls and scoots the bag the short distance to the second king and says, “You take, you take.”

The other two kings assume it is the crazy antics of a small child, but the second king knows better. It is a gift for him. The child knows him.

The child takes the frankincense and sets it next to the bag of gold. “Yours,” he giggles. Then the child’s smile fades as he looks straight into the king’s eyes and says “For you.” Never had the king been given such a gift.

Wandering off toward the third of his kingly visitors, the child relieves the king’s tiring arms of the dangling myrrh and pushes it toward the second king.

The third king soon feels the Christ child playing with his face; first his lips, then his cheeks, then his nose, and finally the child playfully, and gently, tugs at his eye lids.

Opening one eye lid, the child whispers, “peekaboo,” and the blind king sees the child’s lips say the words.

The king sees the child’s lips!

The king can see!

For the first time in years, the king can see!

They had each traveled to bear gifts to the child king, but what they had never expected was that they would be the ones to receive a gift. And, they certainly had never expected the last gift the child had in store.

The small child whispered to the once blind man, “Brothers” and pointed to the other two kings. The now seeing king focused his new eyes on the other two men, searching beyond the gleam of their crowns and beyond their dark circled eyes and wrinkles.

Seeing clearly, he recognized two faces that he remembered from his youth.

The child’s last gift was the gift of his brothers.

The Christ Child had brought them all together once again. And, as they rejoiced, the star above their heads shone brighter and gave light to the world.

This story is most rightly considered a legend of course.

Anyone who has studied their bibles knows that the men who visited the Christ child were not kings, but were magi, or men of wisdom. They were probably astrologers.

They also would note that the bible does not say how many of them visited. There may have been three, there may have been fifty three.

The bible certainly does not say anything about any ailments each one had, nor does it report of any healing that occurred because of the Christ child. As I said, the story is best considered a legend.

But, that does not mean there is no truth in the story.

Just as John the Baptist once asked if Jesus was the Messiah, or if he should wait for another, the answer given John the Baptist is the same one given in the legend: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

Wherever the blind (whether physically or spiritually blind) are given sight, Jesus is there.

Wherever people who have been limited either physically or psychologically from connecting with others are finally healed and restored to community, Jesus is there.

Wherever the poor are made whole and made to feel equal with all others, Jesus is there.

The story you just heard may be a legend, but it is full of the truth of Jesus. It tells the truth, that we do not bear gifts to Jesus, rather Jesus is our gift and Jesus is the one graces us with gifts.

And, if you ever desired to share in the work of Jesus’ kingdom, to follow in his path, your work might look something like teaching someone a trade (the blind see), supporting the recovery of amputee soldier (the lame will walk), opening the heart of someone who is closed off by hate, (the deaf hear), sitting with those who have lost everything (the dead are raised), and giving a job to a single mom (the poor have good news brought to them).

All of those things are signs of the kingdom of God. And, in all those things and more, Jesus is there.

Jesus is there.

Reflection on Matthew 3:1-12

“In the wilderness.” The words might have been easily overlooked in order to get into the meat of the story with ideas of repentance and images of baptism by fire and threshing floors. But, those three words, “in the wilderness,” have the ability to tell the whole story.

As a scenic designer for the theatre, I realize that setting can shape everything. If the play is intimate, you want to design small little nooks and crannies in the scenery where people can be close to each other and attention focused.

If the play is whimsical, you want to use exaggerated roof lines and use extremely sized props like a book twice as big as it should be.

Though people rarely think about the nature of the scenery in the play and how it contributes to the plot (other than to marvel if it is particularly beautiful), it still can make or break show by focusing the audience appropriately.

But, you do not need to be trained as a scenic designer to understand this concept. Most people already understand it quite naturally.

When you want to pop the big question, “Will you marry me?” you carefully consider the setting. Perhaps, you choose an intimate setting, a restaurant maybe, with low light, candles, and high backed booths so as to provide privacy and space for quiet and personal conversation.

When you want to get away from it all, you may choose a cabin out in the woods, or…better yet…next to a lake on which it is impossible for other people to stand and bother you. Unless, of course, it is Jesus bothering you. Standing on lakes do not seem to faze the savior.

So, if you wanted to choose a setting for repentance, where would you choose?

It probably would help if you knew exactly what repentance was first.

Repentance, contrary to popular notions, is not the state of emotion where we simply feel sorry all the time. No need for depressing dark basements on our stage. Though feeling sorry can definitely be a part of repentance, the true meaning of repentance is “to turn around,” or to have a dramatic change of mind and direction.

As Ron Allen, Professor of Preaching and New Testament
Christian Theological Seminary Indianapolis, Indiana puts it in his workingpreacher.org commentary: "To repent is to turn away from the values and practices of the old age (e.g., idolatry, violence, injustice, exploitation, slavery, and scarcity)" and to turn towards the values and practices of the Realm of God "which seek to increase love, peace, justice, dignity, freedom, and abundance."

So, back to setting, if you wanted to choose a setting for repentance…for leaving old values behind, and turning toward new ones, which one would you choose?

That is where the wilderness comes in. Picture a barren flat plain where only locusts and bees make an appearance every-so-often. Imagine a place devoid of human civilization and innovation. Imagine a place that lacks all of your old ways of life, and only holds space…vast amounts of space for something new.

Spring flowers are nice in any setting, but they are particularly striking on a barren flat plain in the wilderness. They are like a dream that materialize into reality where, before, there seemed to be dust and no possibilities.

Only in the wilderness, barren of all distractions, do the best dreams spring up. Dreams and hopes that look a lot like a wolf living peacefully with a lamb.

Such an image in the real world seems absurd with all of the world’s complexities, but in the wilderness, where we can strip away realness for a few moments, it gives us hope and provides the space for new ideas on how to achieve the peace found within the image.

The same is true for the other images in Isaiah 11 where, “the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.”

Only in the wilderness, stripped of the old ways of life, can we even start to dream such dreams and scheme new ways to make a world of love, peace, and justice a reality.

So, what are we waiting for? Give yourself the gift of taking a moment right now to walk toward the wilderness.

As you walk toward the barren plain, dust swirling just mere feet ahead of you, you realize that most of the weight you have been carrying around has no use in the wilderness. Just as you have no use for kitchen sinks in the wilderness, you too have no use for the other things that have been weighing you down in life.

What has been weighing you down the past few weeks?

What has been taking control of your thoughts and feelings?

What has been causing anxiety and influencing all that you do and say?

Allow Christ to slip those things off of your shoulders as you step into the wilderness.

Take a moment to breathe a deep breath. Breath the same fresh air to which John the Baptist was drawn as he wandered out into the barren space.

Feeling refreshed, feeling the weight of the past dropped from your shoulders, allow yourself a moment to consider the dreams God has allowed you to dream.

After-all, the world does not have to be the way it is. It does not have to have hate. It does not have to have conflict. It does not have to have insensitivity. It does not have to have addictions. It does not have to have any of the stuff that weighs us down.

Just take a moment and allow yourself to image that the world does not have to be this way.

What sort of vision has God given you for a new world?

What sort of vision has God given you for your life and the life of your neighbor?

What is the dream God has given you?

Like the flowers growing in the wilderness, those dreams are possibilities that God can bring into reality. Wait for them to grow. Wait for the Lord to move. Wait for the Lord, and, join in when the Jesus does move. Follow in the path that Jesus creates, and be God’s dream.

Do not just dream God’s dream for the world, be God’s dream for the world.

And, with an actual step taken in a new direction in life; that, my friends, is repentance.

Repentance is not a one and done deal either. It is a way of life. It is a way of faith. It is wandering into the wilderness daily, allowing Christ to put the old to death, and then allowing Christ to raise us up again in the new.

It is the clearing of the weeds and trash from our threshing floors and burning it up so that we only have rich grain left.

Repentance and new life is the way that Jesus provides for us to be the kingdom of God. And, it all starts with a trip into the wilderness.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reflection on Matthew 24:36-44

In the days of Noah, the man had just finished the wedding feast, and now he was carrying his bride to the tent. The rain had not dampened the festivities in the least. In fact, dancing in the mud seemed to heighten the excitement of the evening. But, the time for dancing was done, at least for the groom. As the party guests continued their celebrating, he grabbed his new wife, raised her up into the air, and strode off into the night.

Little did he know that within moments, he would be carrying her in order to keep her above the continually deepening flood waters.

Little did he know that the marriage would end in just a few moments as the current swept her from his arms as he stumbled to keep upright in the flow of the water and rubbish.

Little did he know that his wedding night would also be the night of his funeral.

Little did he know.

Life is uncertain and unpredictable.

Today is no different than the days of Noah in that respect. Two of you can be working on a project together, and one of you will get cancer. Within months one of you will be swept away in gut-wrenching treatments, and then death. Life is uncertain and unpredictable.

Two of you can be out hunting together, and one of you loses your footing and gets swept down the side of the mountain; the fatal blow occurring when the rock meets the head. Life is uncertain and unpredictable.

Two of you might have had weddings in the same summer, and one of you watches helplessly as the other couple gets swept away in petty fights and an eventual divorce. Life is uncertain and unpredictable.

Two of you enter the class on the same day, but one of you gets swept away in a sea of bullying while the other does not, and passes the class without any issues. Life is uncertain and unpredictable.

We like to think that we are in control of our lives. We like to think that we shape our own destinies. And, this may be true to some degree.

The one who boldly chooses to go through the eight to ten grueling years of schooling to become a lawyer will have a better income than the one who chooses to stay at home after graduation and farm. That is, assuming a car accident does not sweep away the good life of the lawyer shortly after she establishes her career.

We do not have as much control over our lives as we would like to think. Life is uncertain and unpredictable.

The people of Matthew’s time were coming to grips with this reality as they waited longer and longer for Jesus’ return. Jesus was supposed to come back and save them all from the horrors of government oppression and death to the mouths of lions. Jesus was supposed to come back and make the world right again, with justice and peace prevailing. Jesus was supposed to come back, and he did not.

It is said that the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. It seems to be proving true.

OK, that is a little bit of an exaggeration; there are other things that are true in life. I am learning that poop jokes will always be funny to two year olds. That is a certainty.

There are other certainties: the earth goes around the sun; the sun will blind you at the very moment you need to see the road clearly; the roads will get potholes the size of Texas and do damage to your tires; and everything in Texas will always be bigger…including their fish stories (as we learned from Vicar from Texas last year). There are some things in life that are certain. But, the movements of God are not one of them.

There is a reason that C.S. Lewis chose to represent God as a lion in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lions are powerful, but they can also be tender and caring, licking the dirt off of their young. The same is true for God. But, above all, lions are wild and unpredictable. Just as it is impossible to control a wild lion without some sort of gun and drugs, it too is impossible to control God. You cannot fit God into a box. You cannot predict what God is going to do or what God is going to decide. We cannot control God. We are not in control.

And, there it is, the truth of the day: we are not in control.

We do not control God.

Heck, we even have trouble even controlling ourselves.

We certainly do not know what the future holds. We do not know when Jesus will come again (not even Jesus knows that…only God the Father). And, we do not know when the waters will come and sweep us away. We are not in control.

But, I do have one thing to say about that. The fact that we are not in control changes nothing.

You can still love when you are dying of cancer. Unpredictability changes nothing.

You can still love others even when your job is taken out from under you. Uncertainty changes nothing.

You can still forgive as soldiers nail you to the cross. Unpredictability changes nothing.

Even death could not keep love buried under the ground.

You do not need to be certain of anything to have a life full of the gifts of love and forgiveness given to you by your Lord and savior Jesus the Christ.

You can let that forgiveness spill all over as they drag you to the lions, or even to the ambulance. You do not need to live a life in which you are asleep to those around you, allowing the thief of apathy and hatred to break into your house. You do not need to go through life asleep.

You can stay awake when it has to do with love. Love is poured on you constantly throughout your life by God, keeping you awake. Let that love spill everywhere. May it never stop, especially when life seems uncertain and unpredictable for your neighbor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reflection on Luke 23:33-43

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Memory has never been one of my strong points. The Bible says that God will not forget even one hair of our heads. I cannot even remember all of my hair styles throughout the years, much less remember each and every hair.

If it were up to me to save the entire world, or even those with whom I am acquainted, I am pretty certain that my book of life would have a serious lack of names, and would be more of a listing of traits: Guy with goatee and glasses; Five-ish aged boy with purple shoes; Lady with microphone headed hair.

That last one was a member of a former church that I attended. Her hair was a perfect, huge, black ball on top of her head. Thus, from behind she looked like a microphone. We called her microphone lady. Thus, that is how she would be listed.

All of this is to say that I am not the savior of the world, and you should be thankful for that.

I am not certain that I should even be trusted with choosing our nation’s leaders. At least half of you, if you had the chance, would look at the ballot that I cast recently and agree. But, beyond the vote that I cast recently, I am talking a little more in general.

I usually prefer my leaders to be intelligent, decisive, and powerful, with a distinct sense of justice – giving the criminal no leeway while rewarding the law abiding citizen.

If you were to choose a piece of furniture to represent the type of leader that I tend to lead toward, it would probably look a little like a throne. Sure, I believe in democracy, but I also like my leaders to have the ability to get things done.

Whether or not they have a throne to sit on, there is one thing that I know for certain, the furniture that the leader of my natural inclinations would choose probably would not be a cross.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus’ kingship has something to do with memory and crosses.

Jesus’ type of leadership has to do with remembering even those despicable people who we would rather forget. Memory.

Jesus’ type of leadership has to do with identifying with the lowest of the low in society. The Cross.

Jesus’ leadership looks a lot like an innocent man, nailed to a cross, uttering the words “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” over those who would seek to destroy him. It looks a lot like the man who would choose to forgive a criminal who rightly deserved execution on a cross, but, in an act of contrition, says, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

“Love your enemies.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Blessed are the poor.” “Rejoice, for the lost has been found.” “Forgive, even if they sin against you seven times a day.”

These are the values of the king that we have.

They are not the values held by most strong civic leaders for whom we might vote. However, they are the values of a king…and a heaven Father…who does not wish that even one of us would be lost. They are the values of the one who is able to remember every hair on your head. They are the values of the savior we have been given by God.

And, these eternal values are probably a good thing. If we are honest with ourselves (and I am asking you to do that right now), we all have aspects about ourselves that probably should be forgotten and left behind.
All of us have sins that we hope would never come to the surface. All of us have acted out of fear rather than love. All of us have chosen to hate someone and call them an enemy rather than forgive.

All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, as the Apostle Paul says.

There is no one who does good, not even one, declares Psalm 14.

All of us are the criminal, hanging on the cross next to Jesus; every single one of us.

And, if you are sitting there saying to yourself, “Well, that does not describe me,” then you especially are the one hanging there…guilty of making yourself god and violating the first commandment; “You shall have no other gods.”

All of us hang there, guilty as charged, next to the king who seeks a different way. His way is a way of mercy. His way is a way of love. His way is the way that refuses to forget.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The words pour from our mouths as words of hope. They fall at the foot of the cross as we seek a merciful king. Thankfully, for us, the king who hears our words replies, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

 Yes, even you are not forgotten. Jesus does not forget you; not one of you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Reflection on Luke 21:5-19

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let ev'ry heart prepare him room
and heav'n and nature sing,
and heav'n and nature sing,
and heav'n, and heav'n and nature sing.

No, I am not crazy in making you reflect on this hymn! I am not taking my lead from the Walmarts and K-Marts of the world and decorating your screen with church music before Thanksgiving has even arrived.

I made you reflect on it because there is something about this hymn that you do not know. This hymn is not a Christmas hymn.

Isaac Watts, the author, did not have Christmas in mind when he wrote the words, “the Lord is come,” but rather, wanted us to voice images of Christ’s second coming; “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king; let ev'ry heart prepare him room and heav'n and nature sing…”

Mr. Watts wanted us to find hope in Christ’s return in power to a world that is struggling.

And, our world is struggling. Though some are relieved by the outcome of the election, some of your neighbors are scared. And, that divide between us as a nation helps to reinforce the reality that our world is struggling.

But, let us lay politics aside for the rest of this reflection because you do not need politics to know that the world is struggling.

We see images on the news of people trapped in the hopelessness of war. We see images of people who have lost loved ones to tragedy. We see images of hate between nations and people.

Heck, we do not even need the news. We experience all of these horrible things in our own lives. The earth quakes, the rivers flood, our families are divided, our jobs are insecure as are our livelihoods; I do not need to go on. You already know that life can be a struggle.

And, it does not help that you read Jesus' words upon which this reflection is based and have your anxiety raised once again with words such as:

"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name."

If look to the Bible to find an everlasting peace in a hectic world, might I suggest that you never choose the readings appointed in the middle of November on the Sunday before Christ the King Sunday. It is always this talk of destruction and gloom.

The words make us wonder if recent wars and natural disasters are proof that Jesus was talking about us right here, and right now. It makes us wonder if the end of the world is near.

And if it is, shall we go build ourselves shelters, storing away our Campbell’s Noodle Soup, and holing ourselves up for good?

Of course, there is one important thing we must remember on this day. Jesus was not talking about us.

Jesus was actually talking to his disciples. Some time after Jesus’ death, the temple in Jerusalem did fall. That was the Jews’ 911. It was big, and terrible, and horrible. The Romans slaughtered a bunch of people. And, there were earthquakes, and famines in their time, as there have always been earthquakes and famines. And, unfortunately, the early Christians were arrested, and persecuted, and brought to trial before kings and governors. All of these things did happen to the early Christians. It was horrible. And, Jesus was not talking about us.

I fear that we become so preoccupied with our own future and our own tragic demise that we miss the whole point of this biblical story in the first place.

And, the point is this: even though the early Christians went through these horrible persecutions for their faith, we still gather in the name of Jesus Christ even today. Those persecuted Christians still told the story of the new life that is found in Jesus.

Were there people out there telling their neighbors that the end of the world was near? Of course, but it did not matter.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first.” Then Jesus assures the disciples, “the end will not follow immediately.”

Despite the horrors of life, Jesus encouraged the disciples not to dwell on the horror. Instead, they were encouraged to share the good news.

Even when the world is falling apart, followers of Christ share the good news. Especially when the world is falling apart, followers of Christ share the good news of resurrection and new life, because the horrors of the cross were not the last word.

Jesus’ ability to bring life out of death is the last word. Love is the last word. Love is coming to rule the world. Joy to the world.

And, guess what? The disciples did abandon their fears, and they did share the good news. And, because they did, all of the faithful who exist today know Jesus Christ our savior.

Was the temple in ruins? Yes. Were there wars and earthquakes; and did they appear to be occurring more regularly? Yes. It did not matter. Jesus told them that the end will not follow immediately.

More than that, Jesus told them that hard times are an opportunity to find God. They are not the time to give up. And, the disciples listened. And, because they did, we know Jesus today.

He rules the world with truth and grace
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.

All of us have come to the faith because someone in our past decided not to throw in the towel and hide in their Armageddon shelter. You are here because someone in your past believed that Jesus really does rule the world. You are here because people took this promise and endured through the hard times; finding something so vital about God and Jesus that they just had to share it with you.

You and your faith are the beneficiaries of persecutions and death. You and your faith are the beneficiaries of other people's struggles. You are the dividend for other people’s endurance. And, you are invited to be a part of the same story.

So, I was wrong a little bit. The story is about you.

But, it is not about your tragic demise in an end of the world cataclysm.

It is about Jesus giving you faith even when your world has fallen apart. And, it is about God giving you the opportunity to share the joys and wonders of faith carved into you through endurance.

So, I ask, “How will you make sure that God’s story does not end with you?” “What story are you going to tell, and to whom will you tell it?” In other words, “What will you testify?”

“Do not worry,” Jesus says, “about what you will testify.” Simply trust. Jesus has brought you this far in life, and Jesus will give you the words.

“Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance,” Jesus says, “for I will give you words and wisdom…”

I am reminded of the wisdom Jesus gave an eight year old girl. Her grandmother’s world had just fallen apart after she lost her husband. The grandmother had been crying uncontrollably in the kitchen for days.

The morning before the funeral, her eight year old granddaughter stepped into the doorway.

The grandmother unsuccessfully tried to straighten up and be strong as her granddaughter stepped up next to her. The granddaughter looked at her stricken face, laid her head on her shoulder and asked,

“Are crying about missing Grandpa?”

The grandmother said “Yes, honey, I am.”

Tears gathered in the granddaughter’s eyes. Then the eight year old granddaughter said,

“I miss grandpa too. I will cry a little until God comes and lets us see him again.”

“Those words were more valuable than those of my friends, and children all put together,” the grandmother told me after the funeral.

In one simple statement, the granddaughter gave her permission to let her world fall apart, but at the same time to trust God.

With wisdom beyond her years, the little girl was the embodiment of Jesus’ words, don’t worry, “for I will give you words and wisdom…”

And, your words make a difference too. Trust that. Know that. Live that.

We live in a world of fear, but we are not a people of fear. Do not worry about the horrors of the world or the end of the world. Ignore all of that.

Rather, trust in the new life found in Jesus. When we do, future generations will have faith because of us also.