Sermon for August 12 (Luke 12)
2007-08-10 by David von Schlichten

You may want to scan the previous three or four blog entries before reading the sermon, because they show the process that led to this sermon. - Dave

Judgment = Joy

(word count: approx. 900)

 

     Abusive thunderstorms, tornadoes, heat waves, the Utah mining crisis, deteriorating infrastructures, terrorism, war. Is the End near?

     It may be. It is difficult to know for sure. After all, there have always been disasters. For instance, in the mid-thirteen hundreds, the Black Plague killed about 25% of the population of Europe. The disease killed off entire villages. Millions of people died. Many people thought that all the death was from the wrath of God. “This is it. The End has finally come,” people exclaimed. That was almost seven-hundred years ago.

     In the 1800s, here in the United States, we fought a war that lacerated our nation in half. Surely, back during the Civil War, there were people who thought that at least the United States was coming to an end, but here we are.

     It could be that the End is near. It could be that all these problems have arisen because God is furious with us and the Judgment is approaching. But if you think that having a lot of disasters is new, let me assure you that, since the beginning, disasters have been common on this planet and will continue to be. People always think that their time is the worst time and that the past was better.

     I see no solid evidence to support the belief that the End is near, but let's suppose it is. Let's suppose that the End is looming slate-gray on the horizon, about to burst upon us. Let's suppose that Christ is about to return. He is opening the Book of Life. He is getting ready to pronounce judgment on each one of us. You and I stand before towering Christ. He calls your name. He is going to judge your faith and subsequent works. How do you feel?

    Most of us, when we think of Christ judging us on the Last Day, feel fear. We tend to think that the Final Judgment will be frightening because God will confront us about all the ways we fall short. Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that we will be accountable for our actions, even though our salvation is ultimately God's doing, not ours. We think of all our sins, and we get sweaty and dry-mouthed at the thought of God judging us.

     It is understandable that we would feel fear at the thought of the Final Judgment; however, in passages such as our Gospel reading from Luke 12, Jesus says, “Have NO fear, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Also, in 1 John 4 we learn that the perfect love of God casts out fear. John 3:17 teaches us that Christ did not come to condemn the world but that in order the world might be saved through him.

     Given such teachings, perhaps it makes more sense for us Christians to anticipate the Final Judgment, not with fear, but with joy. Think about that. What if, when you think about the Final Judgment, you feel, not fear, but joy?

     We can indeed feel joy because Christ has given us eternal life, and we can feel joy because we are believers who strive to live our faith through good works. Listen to Luke 12:43. It says, “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” Did you catch that? The verse does not say, “Blessed is the slave who is perfect,” or “Blessed is the slave who never does anything wrong.” No, the verse says, “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.”

     You and I, through baptism into Christ's death and resurrection, are God's freed slaves. Are you working to serve God? I didn't ask, “Are you perfect?” God knows we will not be perfect. Are you working? Could you do more? Sure you could. We all could, but the Bible makes it clear that, when the Master returns, when the End comes, when the Final Judgment dawns, Christ will be looking, not for us to be perfect, but for us to be working as his slaves.

     If we are doing that, then we have nothing to fear. The Final Judgment will not make us jittery but will make us jump for joy. After all, we do not have to worry about getting into heaven, because Christ died and rose to guarantee us eternal life. Further, the Holy Spirit has given us faith; therefore we are able to believe and do good works. Do you believe, and are you showing your belief by doing good works? Then stop worrying about the Final Judgment. For us, God's baptized, saved, sanctified slaves, judgment equals joy. The Final Judgment is, not something to fear, but something to look forward to.

     Given that truth, instead of fretting about whether these are the Final Days, why don't we focus instead on loving God and the neighbor? Instead of griping about deteriorating infrastructure, maybe we can find some way to help with the problem. Instead of thinking that storms mean the End is coming, why don't we make our environment as safe and healthy as possible? Instead of being full of gloom, anger and fear, why don't we focus on making the world better through a faith in God that gives birth to works of love?

     Finally, when the End does dawn, we can sprint to meet Christ, thrilled to see him, confident that the Judgment will mean, not fear, but joy, all because of God.





Sermon Outline for August 12
2007-08-09 by David von Schlichten

I had to cut short my last blog entry because a loud, intimidating storm was stomping around outside. Now the storm is passing, and I have crawled out from under the bed to post my sermon outline for Sunday.

Judgment = Joy

  1. Tornado in New York, Utah Mining Crisis, Deteriorating Infrastructures, Terrorism: Is the End Near?

  2. It may be; it is difficult to know for sure; there have always been disasters, and people throughout history have tended to think that their days were the worst and the last

  3. Many think the Final Judgment will be frightening, because God will confront us about all the ways we fell short

  4. Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that we will be accountable for our actions, even though our salvation is ultimately God's doing, not ours

  5. At the same time, Jesus teaches us to have no fear, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give us the Kingdom

  6. We also hear in Luke 12:43, “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.”

  7. What if, instead of dreading the Judgment, we look forward to it, because, after all, by the Spirit's power, we are doing God's work?

  8. God has been faithful to us; we respond with faith that produces good works, including putting aside our obsession with stuff so we can help the poor

  9. As we watch for the End, we also watch over people in need and watch out for that which may erode our faith; we do all this with trust in God's fidelity (see LH for more on these 3 watches)

  10. Then judgment will mean joy, because we have nothing to worry about!

  11. If we sin while trying to be faithful, we trust in the mercy of the cross; God knows we won't be perfect

  12. What are some ways we can show our faith?

    A. helping to repair infrastructures, instead of merely complaining about their deterioration

    B. transforming our understandable anger and sadness into action

    C. working to improve the environment instead of assuming that natural disasters are simply a sign of the End about which we can do nothing (avoid passive fatalism)

  13. Through all this, God fortifies our faith through Scripture, prayer, Holy Communion, reminder of Baptism, forgiveness, other people

  14. Have no fear; God comes to embrace you, not condemn you (cf. John 3:17 [sic]); perfect love casts out fear; judgment will mean joy





Sermon Outline for August 12 (Maybe)
2007-08-09 by David von Schlichten

Thanks be to the Holy Spirit for Dee Dee Haines' thoughts about knowing that, through God, we can be what God has called us to be and that we need not fear.

Dee Dee writes of a person being like a mighty oak. Indeed, by God's power we can be just that, even though many of us feel more like a dandelion on the lawn of life, and we think God's coming with a big bottle of weed-killer. Dee Dee's words can help to fertilize away fear.

After prayer, reflection, study and discussion, I have come up with this sermon outline for Sunday, August 12:

title: Judgment = Joy

main point: While many of us see these days as full of doom and the day of judgment as imminent and frightening, and while there is some validity to these beliefs, a more complete picture of judgment assures us that that day will mean joy for those of us who have responded to God's faithfulness with Spirit-powered faith that produces loving actions toward God and neighbor.

NOTE: As I type this, a dramatic, frightening thunderstorm rages. I may have to suspend my blogging until the storm passes.





Thoughts about Sunday August the 12th
2007-08-09 by Dee Dee Haines

I had two funerals on Tuesday.  They were from two different churches, but each of them, in their own way, represented the same kind of presence in the community. A long—standing, reliable servant leader who inspired others with their own lives.  I take as much time as possible when it comes to shaping the words to describe the life of someone else.  I receive this holy task humbly, and endeavour to create a time of thanksgiving for their time among us that will be of deep meaning to those who loved them, and bring glory to the God who has received them with those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

 

One of my congregants was 92 years old. I began “C’s” eulogy with these words:  Some say that the mighty oak is the patriarch of all trees.  It is firmly planted in the middle of the forest with roots that stretch deeply into the earth to provide an anchor that will not be easily swayed when the winds begin to blow.  The oak spreads its leaves and branches, giving shelter to any who might find their way beneath the safety of the leafy canopy.  It is often the oldest tree, bearing the scars of storms, having endured and survived the years of change.  The mighty oak is a tree of wisdom, perhaps a close relation to the Tree of all Life, linked forever in mutual covenant.  C was, for us, a mighty oak.

 

Following the funeral, one woman approached me during the time of fellowship and story-telling to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all hear our own funeral message before we die?”  She went on to say, “It would be life-changing to know how we have impacted the lives of those around us.  And it would be equally life-changing to hear that God has received us, whatever our shortcomings.”

 

It’s funny how her comment has stuck in my mind.  But I can’t help but wonder if her words weren’t closely connected to this week’s texts.  Words of judgement are often unsettling.  They beg us to measure ourselves.  Have I been a good person?  Have I done enough?  Have I learned, as Isaiah records, to “do good and seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow?”  It makes me weep to sit at the side of a bed with someone I know to be a life-long faith- filled person, only to hear them express their fears by saying, “I hope I’ve done enough.  I pray that God will not judge me too harshly.”

 

God’s judgment is tempered with mercy.  I don’t think we say that enough.  I’m not sure if it’s because we don’t feel it in the depth of our being, or because we don’t trust that love is truly transforming.  I suspect when we think about measuring ourselves, we’re much more likely to examine the lives of those around us. Do we comfort ourselves by concluding that we must be part of the select?  Do we get angry when we think about our own sacrifices when compared with the sacrifices of others?

 

When we fully grasp that we have no power of our own to save ourselves, when we comprehend that it is by God’s grace that we are saved, then we are freed from the cycle of futile comparison.

 

Maybe, just a week after the much-publicised tragic events happening in the world, we need to tell our people that they are loved.  Shouldn’t we be doing this every week?   We can stand looking at every face and remind them that God looks at them and says, “You are so beautiful.” After all, don’t we need to remember that loving affirmation has a transforming power?  Fear only produces short-term change.  As soon as the fear is removed, old patterns of behaviour become the norm once again.

 

How do we want to leave the sanctuary on Sunday morning?  Filled with affirmation that God loves us no matter what?  Inspired that by the knowledge that what God knows about us is that we can, with the help of God, really be the people God is calling us to be?  Do we leave feeling depressed that we will never measure up?  Do we see and feel how much people are hurting?  Do we see how caught up we are in our culture’s feel-good, look-good, false impression of what makes us complete?  If we’re afraid, don’t we just want to know that God is there?  That it’s not too late? That we can depend upon God’s faithfulness when our own falls short?  Do we need to be reminded that where God dwells there is life?  Isn’t this the knowledge that will move us to open our hearts and our purses and dress us for action?

 

C wasn’t a perfect man.  But he was like a mighty oak.  He touched the lives of those around him in ways that changed life for them, and for him, as well.  We ended our time of celebration by forgiving him for any errors.  And then I reminded us of a long list of personal traits that were the best of who C was.

 

We finished by declaring that “C was a creature of dust, fashioned in the image of God, loved and precious in God’s sight, redeemed by Christ.” Had I been on the ball, I would have added, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Dee Dee Haines

Isle of Man

 





Lessons for August 12 and Wednesday Morning Bible Study
2007-08-08 by David von Schlichten

I just arrived home from my weekly Wednesday morning Bible study, where I meet with about five members of our congregation to study the lessons for the coming Sunday.

We focused on faith - the faith of Abraham, and the faith we are to have (Hebrews 11). From this faith is to arise good works. If we persevere in faith, including by doing good works, we will be ready for the return of Christ (Luke 12).

Another point that arose from Wednesday Bible study was regarding the idea that God knows all our thoughts (Psalm 33). The Bible study members seemed to think that God knowing their thoughts is scary, because such knowledge means God knows how sinful they are.

Here is my response to my Bible study's points:

Regarding faith, I agree that our faith is important, but God's faithfulness to us is vastly more important and makes our faith possible. Therefore, in a sermon on faith, I would want to start, emphasize, and end with God's faithfulness to us. My parishioners, however, often fixate on their own faith (and how it falls short), thereby overlooking or minimizing the faithfulness of God.

Second, I stressed to my Bible study members that I think God knowing my thoughts is comforting. Most people fail to understand me properly - such is the case for all of us. God understands us perfectly. God always understands.

I'll keep ruminating on all this and praying. I am hoping to write my sermon later today so that I have ample time to revise and rehearse.

Thankful to the Holy Spirit for my Wednesday Bible study, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poet and pastor





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