Putting On the Armor of Light

Sunday, November 27, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 24:36-44 & Romans 13:11-14

It’s 6:00 am the day after Thanksgiving, and men and women get ready for battle. They prepare to brave the darkness – some have even gone out in the dark on Thanksgiving night –  and  put on their armor of defense as they do battle with the crowds. They aren’t fighting to rescue anyone from evil. They are out to engage in finding great sales for Christmas shopping. Now I have to admit that I too have braved the crowds and done some shopping on Black Friday, and when I have, I am reminded of why I rarely engage in this activity. It seems to bring out the worst in people as I watch individuals treat one another rudely in order to find the perfect gift, whatever that perfect gift might be. Long lines of tired people anxiously waiting in line in order to be done with their quest, get cranky and angry as time slips away.

Our readings from Scripture today deal with time. Today is the first Sunday in Advent. The first Sunday of the new year in the life of the church. For many people Advent is usually a season in the church year that individuals want to get through fast so they can get right to Christmas and all that goes along with it – the Christmas trees, the decorating, the parties, the shopping, and the gifts – and of course Jesus. But Jesus seems to be the last one we focus on. Our time is spent more on everything else, and we run the risk of merely wasting time.

Jesus was concerned about how we spend our time. He said no one knows when the world as we know it will end. Jesus will come again. We profess this in our creeds. The question is are we ready or are we wasting time focusing on everything else but Jesus? That’s why this season of Advent is so important. It’s the time that we slow down the rush toward Christmas, and focus on the here and now. It the time to remember what’s really important – loving God and loving one another. It’s a time we deliberately focus on the darkness –the unknown – and continue to have faith, to do good and bear good fruit, even when we don’t have answers.

The unknown can cause a lot of anxiety for people. Most of us want some kind of certainty, and security. Yet we don’t know when Jesus will come again. Because we’ve been talking about it for so long, the tendency for some is to be complacent and think that it won’t happen in our lifetime. For many it’s become a sort of legend. Yet for others, this fills them with anxiety and fear. Jesus said, even he doesn’t know when it will happen, but that we need to be ready. Time is of the essence. We need keep awake and watch. How exactly do we do this?

Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that while we may not know the time when Jesus is coming again, we do know that it is time to be witnesses of Jesus. We need to “put on the armor of light” and “live honorably……not in quarreling and jealousy.” The armor of light – the light of Christ – is what will help us as we journey through the darkness. It is this armor of light that will guide us through the moments of fear and anxiety into faith and hope. Yet in order to put on this armor we may need to take off what we have been wearing. We need to take off jealousy and put on gratitude, take off quarreling and put on peace, take off resentment and put on forgiveness, take off our need for control and put on trust in God. In order to walk through the darkness, we need to let go of those things we have been holding on to and put on the armor of Christ’s light. This is what will help us see in those times of uncertainty.

There are times we need to brave the darkness. There are situations and circumstances that will test our very beliefs, but the light of Christ will give us strength to persevere. There may be moments when all our best efforts seem to be in vain, but the light of Christ will give us the hope to trust in God’s promises. There may be voices that try and frighten us, but the light of Christ will fill us with peace even in the middle of the storms we find ourselves in. Advent is the time to journey through the darkness in order to more clearly see and reflect the light of Christ who is coming again. The time for complacency is over. Jesus is coming and we must be ready, not with presents or trees or parties – although they are great things – but more importantly with open hearts, transformed hearts, hearts that love God and love one another. Hearts that do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Amen.

Advertisements

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.

An Opportunity to Testify

Sunday, November 13, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 21:5-19

Fear. We’ve all experienced it at one time or another. Fear is a natural reaction to something that threatens our security or safety like the sight of a snake in front of us as we are walking, or the sound of something moving in the bushes as we walk by, or someone actually jumping out in front of us. We may also feel fear due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, or floods, or earthquakes. Fear alerts us to potential danger. There are so many fears that we could spend the next hour naming them. And many of these fears are real and understandable. People who are bullied, or discriminated against for a variety of reasons fear for their lives. Individuals and families who are living on the edge economically are afraid.

On Friday, our country celebrated Veterans Day as we took time to remember veterans and others in the military who faced and continue to face real dangers. They have experienced things – horrific things that many of us will never experience and they are all too familiar with fear and danger. Many who return home, do so with lasting physical and emotional scars that keep them in a constant state of anxiety called PTSD. Fear – though initially an emotion to protect us – can end up hurting us and others if it gets out of control. And for many people fear has gotten out of control.

Fear and anxiety are sweeping the nation. And when people live in a constant state of fear they do things they would not normally do. Rational people act irrationally. Fear turns one person against another, one group against another. Actions like gossip, bullying, labeling, and disrespect soon become normal. Fear not kept in check soon turns to riots and violence and death. Fear is running ramped like a wild horse that no one can catch and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. For many it feels like the world is coming to an end. In fact, you can see and hear many who are saying just that.

Every generation at some time in history has thought its time was the end of time. Jesus’ words in the gospel of Luke today speak to these end times. Jesus says nation will rise against nation. He says that there will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues. And worse than these, Jesus says are those who try and lead us astray and tell us things that are contrary to Jesus’ words. Not only will these things happen in our world, but personally believers will be arrested, persecuted, and brought before the legal authorities to stand trial. These words from Jesus don’t seem to comfort us, but we have to pay attention because Jesus is saying that while all these things will happen, there is a great opportunity in them. Jesus says to us today that these are opportunities to testify – to testify to the glory of God. Jesus says, “Do not be led astray.” “Do not go with those who do.” “Do not be terrified.”  You might ask, “How on earth can we testify when everything is going so wrong?” When everything is going wrong is exactly the time to testify.

It’s the time to testify to God’s power that is more powerful than anything that we may cause us to fear. God will always be God. Jesus will always be our Lord and Savior. Nothing on earth can change that fact. God will never be defeated, for Jesus Christ has already conquered the forces of evil. Evil may appear to be winning, but we have to keep our focus on Jesus who is stronger than evil. Jesus is alive. He is risen from the dead. He has saved us through the waters of baptism and he will not let God’s beloved children perish.

Yet, it is hard to get up every day when fears come at us in all different directions. And we have the example of so many great saints who have turned their fears into opportunities to testify. The early disciples were so afraid until the gift of the Holy Spirit gave them the courage to testify – to speak out about all God had done through Jesus Christ. When Martin Luther was afraid, instead of letting fear take over he reminded himself and testified out loud, “I am baptized!” Reminding himself of this gift of grace from God kept fear from taking over. Even when death threats and hate groups tried to stop Martin Luther King Jr. he did not give in to fear and testified when he spoke those powerful words, “I have a dream” and the civil rights movement marched on. When Rosa Parks was told to sit in the back of the bus she did not give in to fear and boldly took her seat in the front of the bus to show that all God’s children no matter what color or race are created equal. In 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a young 14 year old Pakistani girl was shot in the head because she was advocating for women’s education. Today, at age 17, despite continued death threats she refuses to give in to fear and speaks out for human rights -particularly education, and non-violence quoting the proverb, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” There are people in this country and all over the world who are doing what Jesus commands and not giving in to fear, but using their experiences as opportunities to testify. We, as Jesus’ followers, Jesus’ disciples, are called to do the same.

Jesus did not deceive us by painting a picture that everything would be easy, but what he did promise us is that by our “endurance you will gain your souls.” What he meant was that it is easy to give up, to give in to fear, to follow those who will try and lead us astray by promising us things they cannot make good on, but by doing what is right – by following Jesus and living lives like Jesus – our souls will not be harmed. And isn’t that what is most important after all?

Paul encourages us as well in his letter to the Thessalonians, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” Paul, encourages the church then and today to listen to Jesus’ words and not live lives of complacency. We, the church of today, need to testify now more than ever that Jesus is the answer to our fears, that Jesus is the answer to our anxieties, that Jesus is the answer to despair. We have to be examples and testify with our words and our actions. The church is called to speak and act with faith not fear. Instead of speaking about scarcity and lack, we are called to testify to the God of abundance who provides for all our needs. We need to be people of faith who speak words of love and treat one another and everyone we encounter with the love of Jesus even if they don’t think or act or look the same as us. Jesus’ love is for all people and there are no exceptions. Jesus died for all people even those we may find it hard to like. Yet, as Christians we must treat all people with the love of Jesus. We, the church, are called to as he did and listen to each other, to really see each other, and to care for each other.  This is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. We must be careful with our words.  Jesus’ example is one that builds people up not tears them down. Jesus’ example is one that embraces all people and draws them into unity with each other and with God, not separating them with labels or building walls that divide. Jesus’ example is one that cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized and stands up for justice for everyone. Jesus’ example is one of peace and not violence or hatred or war.

Jesus prayed for unity for all people. Love is the antidote to fear. Love will bring the unity that Jesus prayed for. When you feel yourself giving in to fear and anxiety, look to Jesus who is embodiment of peace. Testify about how Jesus is risen and is still working in this world. He is working through you and me if we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us. “Do not be weary in doing what is right.” For Jesus promised that he “will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” Given this promise, every moment of fear can instead to an opportunity to testify to God’s amazing grace, God’s all-encompassing love for everyone. This news is needed now more than ever. God is still God. Jesus is still Lord. These things will never change. May the words of Jesus be on our lips, the love of Jesus be in our actions, and the peace of Jesus be in our hearts. 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!