SERMON Time after Pentecost – Lectionary 33 November 14, 2010 Malachi 4:1-2a Psalm 98 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus, who is the Christ. Amen.
Dr. Ian Paisley who was a fiery Irish cleric and politician was said to have been preaching one Sunday. He was preaching on the End Times and in particular, on the Day of Judgment. As he reached the climax of his sermon, he said; “On that day, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Suddenly, an old woman in the congregation put up her hand and said; “Dr. Paisley, I have no teeth.” To which Dr. Paisley replied; “Madam, teeth will be provided.” Today’s Gospel reading talks about the signs of the end of the age. It talks about wars, famines, destruction, earthquakes and other fearful events. Of course for years, people have tried to predict the end of the world. Listen to this person’s account: “It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Not in the lifetime of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension; never has the future seemed so incalculable as at this time. The domestic economic situation is in chaos.
Our dollar is weak throughout the world. Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible. The political cauldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. It is a solemn moment of our troubles. No man can see the end.”
That sounds very much like someone’s pessimistic picture of today. In fact, it was first published in Harper’s Weekly in October 1857. Maybe this bad news is not so new after all!
Remember the best seller book written by Hal Lindsey entitled; The Late Great Planet Earth.” It was published in 1970 and sold over 15 million copies. It’s amazing how successful his book was considering his predictions have never come to pass.
People have been predicting the end of times for centuries. They all have at least one thing in common. Every one of them has been dead wrong. We are still here. Jesus has not come again.
So if Jesus told his disciples not to waste time speculating about when the end of the world will come to pass; surely, that can also be true for us today.
However, recently there have been all sorts of new speculations when it comes to the end of the world. Not too long ago it was Y2K. Do you all remember that big scare? Then it was the terror attacks of 9-11.
Now, everyone is talking about December 21, 2012 and how this date relates to the ancient Mayan calendar. There is even a website: www.december2012endofworld.com. Indeed, we seem to be living in constant fear of what will happen next.
Our Gospel reading today does the same thing. These words of Jesus can bring tremendous fear to his hearers. Or they can bring joy and hope. So today, I would like to contrast the difference between fear and hope. A number of years ago, leaders in a church decided to track down the congregation’s dropouts. Today we call them inactive members. They combed through the membership list and put together a list of names.
They sent out volunteers two-by-two to knock on doors and invite the absent members back to church. Most of those they visited had simply found other things to do on Sunday morning. One person said, “I would come back to church if it didn’t conflict with my tennis time.” Another said, “We came to church when our kids were involved. But when they outgrew Sunday School, we stopped going.” Another said, “I enjoy going to church on the really big days, like Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July. Compared to those days, other services are a little bit dull.”
However, one response was different. Two volunteers named Jack and Sally went to see a man whom nobody knew.
He lived on the end of the street, in a big house behind three overgrown pine trees. It took the volunteers a few minutes to find the front door. All the curtains were drawn. It looked like nobody was home.
But suddenly the door swung open, and a thin man with a full head of white hair said, “My name is Tarnower. What do you want?” They said, “We’re from the church. We stopped by to see you.” After explaining why they had come, he invited them in. In a few minutes, he was shaking a bony finger at them. “I’ll tell you why I don’t go to church anymore. It’s because I got into the habit of reading the Sunday news paper before I went to the worship service.” Sally leaned forward. “Tell us,” she said warmly, “how did the newspaper keep you from coming to church? Did you get caught up in the sports section and lose track of time? Or was it the comics? Mr. Tarnower looked at her with wild eyes. “No,” he said, “I read the news. It’s an awful world out there. There are a lot of diseases I don’t understand. Wars break out.
Families fall apart. Children run through the streets with handguns. People die prematurely. Listen, the world is falling apart, and the church can’t do a darn thing about it.” “Well,” Jack said, “you ought to come back to church. We have a nice pastor, a fairly good choir, and a Bible study on Wednesday nights. You might enjoy our program.” “No,” Mr. Tarnower said, “I don’t think so. I get out for groceries, but that’s all I want to face. I went to church for a while, but the world got worse. When my wife died, I decided to sit in here, watch everything fall apart, and wait my turn. I don’t go to church anymore. The church has nothing to say.”
You see, in this day and age of terrorist attacks, economic collapses, climate change, energy shortages, of not knowing what the future might be; it would be easy for us to be fearful.
It would be easy for us to just retreat from the world and sit back and wait. Wait for our time to go. Wait for the end of the world – wait for the end of our lives. It is true that so many of us are living our lives in fear. With everything that’s happening these days, it seems that we can’t escape. But in our Gospel reading today, Jesus says; “Not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm, you will gain life.” What is this? Is this a glimmer of hope? You see, what Jesus is saying is; “the world may be falling apart around you, but having faith in me will save you. I am the lifeline of which you can grab hold”.
You see, there is no need for us to be afraid! Those of us who are united in Christ have nothing to fear about the end of time. We have nothing to fear about death or the end of the world. Even through our times of suffering and pain, we have nothing to fear. As Christians, we live for today, we hope for tomorrow, and we rest on the promise that Christ is coming again.
Jesus calls us to not live in fear, but to have hope. For each day is a gift that is to be cherished. Therefore as we wait for the end, we can do so not with fear, but with hope. I find it amazing how we can find hope even in the little things in life.
I would like to close with a story that really seems to illustrate this point.
The pickle jar as far back as I can remember sat on the floor beside the dresser in my parents’ bedroom. When he got ready for bed, Dad would empty his pockets and toss his coins into the jar.
As a small boy I was always fascinated at the sounds the coins made as they were dropped into the jar. They landed with a jingle when the jar was almost empty. Then the tones gradually muted to a dull thud as the jar became full. I used to squat on the floor in front of the jar and admire the copper and silver circles that shined like a pirate’s treasure when the sun poured through the bedroom window.
When the jar was filled, Dad would sit at the kitchen table and roll the coins before taking them to the bank. Taking the coins to the bank was always a big production. Stacked neatly in a small cardboard box, the coins were placed between Dad and me on the seat of his old truck. Each and every time, as we drove to the bank, Dad would look at me hopefully. “Those coins are going to keep you out of the textile mill, son. You’re going to do better than me. This old mill town’s not going to hold you back.”
Also, each and every time, as he slid the box of rolled coins across the counter at the bank toward the cashier, he would grin proudly, and say; “These are for my son’s college fund. He’ll never work at the mill like I have all of my life.”
We would always celebrate each deposit by stopping for an ice cream cone. I always got chocolate. Dad always got vanilla.
When the clerk at the ice cream parlor handed Dad his change, he would show me the few coins nestled in his palm. “When we get home,” he said, “we’ll start filling the jar again.”
He always let me drop the first coins into the empty jar. As they rattled around with a brief, happy jingle, we grinned at each other. “You’ll get to college on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters,” he said. “But you’ll get there. I’ll see to that.” The years passed, and I finished college and took a job in another town.
Once, while visiting my parents, I used the phone in their bedroom, and noticed that the pickle jar was gone. It had served its purpose and had been removed. A lump rose in my throat as I stared at the spot beside the dresser where the jar had always stood.
My dad was a man of few words, and never lectured me on the values of determination, perseverance, and faith. The pickle jar had taught me all these virtues far more eloquently than words could have ever done.
When I married, I told my wife Susan about the significant part the lowly pickle jar had played in my life as a boy. In my mind, it defined, more than anything else, how much my dad had loved me. No matter how rough things got at home,
Even the summer when Dad got laid off from the mill, and Mom had to serve dried beans several times a week, not a single dime was taken from the jar.
To the contrary, as Dad looked across the table at me, pouring catsup over my beans to make them more palatable, he became more determined than ever to make a way out for me. “When you finish college, Son,” he told me, “You’ll never have to eat beans again…unless you want to.”
The first Christmas after our daughter Jessica was born, we spent the holiday with my parents. After dinner, Mom and Dad sat next to each other on the sofa, taking turns cuddling their first grandchild. Jessica began to whimper softly, and Susan took her from Dad’s arms. “She probably needs to be changed,” she said, carrying the baby into my parents’ bedroom to diaper her.
When Susan came back into the living room, there was a strange mist in her eyes. She handed Jessica back to Dad before taking my hand and leading me into the room. “Look,” she said softly, her eyes directing me to a spot on the floor beside the dresser. To my amazement, there, as if it had never been removed, stood the old pickle jar, the bottom already covered with coins. I walked over to the pickle jar, dug down into my pocket, and pulled out a fistful of coins.
With an uncontrollable flow of emotions, I dropped the coins into the jar. I looked up and saw that Dad, carrying Jessica, had slipped quietly into the room. Our eyes locked, and I knew he was feeling the same emotions I felt. Neither one of us could speak.
A pickle jar was, and is, a symbol of hope in their world. Each and every one of us has experienced these moments of hope in our lives. We must cling to them and never let go. However, finally our true hope lies in Jesus Christ our Lord. For it is in him that we shall gain true and everlasting life. Amen.
May the peace that passes all understanding be with you now and for life everlasting. Amen.
Have you ever heard anyone say; “I have some good news and some bad news”? What do people normally like to hear first?
In our Gospel reading today Jesus is telling some bad news about what is going to happen in the world. He says that there are going to be people starving, wars, people killing each other, earthquakes, all kinds of terrible things.
Are any of these things happening today? What would happen if that was it, and there was no good news – no hope?
As Christians, we believe that there is good news. No matter how bad things are, there is always good news.
Can any of you tell me what that good news is? Do you know what the word “Gospel” means? It means “good news”
So even though Jesus talks about some bad and scary things sometimes, there is still good news. Jesus loves us and promises to be with us forever and ever; even in the bad times. And that’s a promise. Let us pray… Dear Lord, you are the one who gives us hope when things seem so bad. Help us always to remember your good news and help us to share that good news with others. Amen.