Be Still and Know That I Am God

Sunday, November 20, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church- Manchester, PA
Luke 23:33-43 & Psalm 46

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. Currently, our gospel readings come from Luke, but starting next Sunday – the first Sunday of Advent – our gospel readings will come from Matthew. The gospel lesson for this Christ the King Sunday takes us back to Jesus’ crucifixion. It seems an odd reading to end the church year, talking about the end of Jesus’ life. Luke points us to a time in history when the entire ministry of Jesus’ life – preaching, teaching, and healing – ended in his death. He spent his whole life showing people how to love and in that one moment in time love was the farthest thing the people around that cross felt. They mocked him by saying if he were really the King of the Jews he would save himself. What kind of king would not fight back? Instead, Jesus was still. He could have moved, but he didn’t. He chose to remain still, hanging in agony.

We don’t like to think of that image of Jesus. We want to run from it, put it out of our minds. It’s too painful. Running from pain and danger is a natural human response. We don’t want to stay there too long. And yet for many people pain is a constant reality. It can be in the form of physical pain or emotional pain, but either way we want the pain gone fast, and when it lingers it takes a toll on the person going through it and those around them. We start to question why this has to happen. We ask why God is allowing this to happen. It can wear us down to the point where we start to even question our faith because it has gone on for too long. If Christ is really King we ask, “Why doesn’t he do something about this?”

It’s really the same question that those who mocked Jesus at the foot of the cross asked. They said if he was really the King, he would have the power to save himself and others. We say it too. “Jesus, if you really cared about us you would do something about this suffering! You would fix the problems we are experiencing! You would make things easier for us! What kind of King are you? How long do we have to suffer? Don’t you care?” I’ve found myself in moments like this too. For all the people I love – and that includes every one of you – I want your pain and suffering to end. In moments when the tears fall heavy, I lament to God. When I read Luke today, I realize in those times I am no better than those who mocked Jesus.

The story of Job in the Bible is a perfect example of this. He was a good man who was plagued with one horrible thing after another. He lost everything – his house, his cattle, his wife, his children – and he lamented or complained to God all the time asking why this was happening to him. The entire book of Job is his painful lament to God in his suffering. Job had every reason to be upset. This man suffered a lot, but in the end after God listened to it all, God basically said, “Stop” “Be still” “Listen Job, who do you think you are to try to understand God or the things you cannot understand?” It stopped Job dead in his tracks.

When my daughters were young and they were about to do something that might harm them, I too had to get them to stop. Instead of yelling “stop” I would say “freeze.” That instantly got their attention and they would literally freeze like statues. They would stop dead in their tracks and turn to me. Then they would listen and hear what direction I needed to give them next. Until they were still they couldn’t hear and would have wound up potentially hurting themselves – like touching a hot oven, stepping on a piece of glass, or about to touch a dangerous insect. Sometimes being still can literally save your life.

The writer of Psalm 46, reminds us that despite the many dangers we may encounter in life, God says, “Be still, then, and know that I am God.” Sometimes God may whisper this to us gently as in the touch of a gentle breeze on a hot day. More often than not in our busy and hectic lives we rarely find time to stop and be still. We can become overrun with fear and feeling out of control we make ourselves busier and busier. There’s always a new reason why we can’t find time to take a moment and be still until God, like a parent who needs to stop their child from danger shouts, “Stop!” “Be still, and know that I am God!” God needs to get our attention. God is trying to tell us that all those things that we are afraid of, all those things that are causing us pain, all those worries that we have are distracting us from focusing on the One who is here with us, Jesus. God is trying to tell us that all those people who are promising us that they are the answer to our fears, all those things that are promising to take away are pain, all those people who are telling us that they can save us are not the answers. “Be still, and know that I am God!” There is only one God and it is not the people or things that hold only empty promises. Jesus is the only one who can save us. We have to be still in order to really understand and experience that.

Jesus knew that truth. That is why he hung on the cross. That is why he was still. Jesus knew this psalm. He studied it in the synagogue. It was written in his heart. He knew that only God could save him. And he knew that God would save him. He just had to wait. Jesus had to stay the course. He had to hang there and be still just a while longer. One of the criminals next to Jesus got it. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He saw Jesus for who he was, the real king. Jesus was not the king the people back then wanted and maybe not even the king the people want today. We want someone who will give us what we want, instead of what we need. Jesus, will always give us what we need. Jesus promised the criminal Paradise and we have that same promise. Jesus hung there long enough to keep us out of danger, long enough to keep us out of eternal suffering, long enough to bring God’s glory to us.

Being still doesn’t mean we are doing nothing. In that stillness we are able to hear God’s voice over the false voices that try and lead us in the wrong direction and we are guided by the Spirit. In that stillness we are able to refocus on Jesus instead of looking only at ourselves and our own wants.  In that stillness we are able to feel the presence of God who is with us through every situation. In that stillness we are able to know that God is God, that God is in control and that Christ is the true king. Sometimes being still can literally save your life. Jesus was still long enough to save ours. This week, be still. Feel the presence of the risen Christ who is our true and gracious king. “He has rescued us from darkness. In him all things hold together.” It may be the last week of the church year, but make Christ the first place in your life. Amen.

Saints Throughout Time

Sunday, November 6, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 6:20-31
Ephesians 1:11-23
Daniel 7:1, 13-18

Time as we know it has now changed. Last night we manipulated our clocks and set them back one hour in order to have more hours of daylight. At least that’s the way we rationalize daylight savings time, although in reality it doesn’t really add more hours to our day. We just trick ourselves into thinking that we can somehow alter time to fit our needs. We like to think that we can somehow alter time, make it stand still, turn back the hands of time if even for a little while.

Time travel has always been something that has intrigued people throughout the centuries. Scientists try and see if they can somehow break the space time continuum in order to step back into the past or enter into the realm of the future. We’d like to imagine the possibility to be able to change those events in our past that we could have made different choices with the information we have now, or to go into the future and change the course of history as we would like it to be. But we cannot alter time and the events of the past cannot be rewritten. We live in the space between the past and the future. We live in the present, a space that for many people is hard to live in.

As we gather here this morning to celebrate All Saints Day, we linger in that in-between space-the space between the past and the future. For many that is quite an uncomfortable space to dwell. We want answers to our questions. We long for certainty. We look for signs. The space between leaves us hanging between yesterday and tomorrow, between regret and peace, between doubt and hope. Today- right now- the present moment can be a challenging place to be.

Experiencing the death of a loved one, whether yesterday or a year or more ago, the space between sorrow and joy is unsettling. The way things used to be is no longer. The past brings up images and dreams of things we long for again. Our hearts may be raw and open with the longing to return to what was. It can be a painful time. Like the prophet Daniel, we may have visions of the future – frightening visions – that we can’t understand as we wonder what the future will bring now that our lives have changed so drastically. We know we can’t go back and yet there is a fear of moving forward. There is a fear that perhaps we are losing something if we do. We May even feel a sense of betrayal in finding joy again. And so we try to avoid looking into the future too far because we are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid perhaps to even hope.

We live in the space between what was and what is to come. And this present space can be unsettling because it’s often filled with struggle, pain, hardship, suffering, and death. Yes, death is still a reality in our present state. And no matter how hard we try and avoid it or pretend it will not happen, death will come to us all and that reality leaves us uncomfortable in this space between God’s kingdom on earth and in heaven. We long for some kind of continuity between time – a unity that connects the past, the present, and the future – something that transcends time itself.

Our reading from Daniel eliminated verses 13 & 14, but they are important one to mention. Daniel writes, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power, all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” He speaks about the Ancient One – the One who was before the beginning of time and the One who will remain through time. In God we have our hope and our unity that transcends the boundaries of time. Daniel ends verse 18 with the promise that “the hoy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever – forever and ever.” Who are the holy ones? They are the saints – all the saints – made saints because they are chosen by God.

So often we think of saints as those special individuals who live such righteous and godly lives that they are worthy to be called saints. But the holy ones – the saints – are all those whom God chooses to bestow grace, and mercy, love, and forgiveness on. And God chooses to bless all who believe with these fits. This is the great inheritance we have all received through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. In the letter to the Ephesians we hear that “in Christ we have also received an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to this council and will, so that we were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” What an inheritance! And this has been passed down through all generations through all the saints – past, present, and future.

This inheritance of God’s grace transcends time and space. This inheritance unifies the saints of all the ages. This inheritance holds us all together as the body of Christ – saints from the past, saints of the future, and we saints sitting her today. This inheritance is what fills the space between and gives us hope in the midst of our struggles and pain. This inheritance is what takes ordinary people and infuses them with God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to be saints of God living for the praise of God’s glory.

This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” We are indeed blessed because God has chosen us – ordinary, imperfect, sinful, doubtful, and fearful people – to be saints of God. Through Jesus Christ we are made righteous before God and receive this inheritance. God has a plan, a vision, a mystery, of oneness with Christ for all people. This vision includes all the saints – past, present, and future. In Christ it’s not only we here today who are unified, but all the saints of all the ages unified into something bigger than ourselves. Like coals in a fire – the church throughout he ages will continue to burn with the fire of God’s holy love. Alone, a single coal will quickly cool and die, but together all the saints of God’s holy church continue to burn brightly even in the darkest of times. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

We saints here on earth are supported by the saints who have gone to be with God before us. The work they did continues on through us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are strengthened to carry on the work of Christ’s kingdom here on earth. We are united in our efforts with all the saints of every age through our unity in Christ.

We don’t have to try and alter time for Christ’s resurrection power transcends all time and space. Christ’s resurrection power connects the past, the present, and the future. Christ’s resurrection power is the hope for all the saints. May we with all the saints of all the ages live for the praise of God’s glory now and forever. Amen!