Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Watch Actively!



FOR THE First Sunday of Advent in our new church year we hear from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. Rather than starting at the beginning of that gospel record, however, our text relates to a prophetic statement said just before the arrest of Jesus. Jesus words thus echo to us about coming events…


“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
 From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
 But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”
                                                                                                  (Mark 13:24-37)

Looking Ahead!
We need to more fully comprehend this prophetic text as given to the early church. In this way we may derive direction for our own day. To do this, to assist us… let me offer that we first must note that our lesson is a word picture painted upon a larger canvas. The picture comes forth from our Lord as a longer talk that preceded this text. The subject was about future desolation to be expected… and the ultimate delivery of the Christian people.
 Since the lesson involves us then, the text rightly needs to be understood from the prediction that Jesus gave concerning the fate of the temple in Jerusalem. The discussion began as the young rabbi taught his disciples after leaving the temple. He told them that the time was coming that one magnificent stone of the temple would not be sitting on top of another.
 We find that this gospel message is mirrored later in Matthew, Chapters 24-25, and in Luke 21:5-36. Here in Mark, however, it seems that we have the earliest written account. Whether this text came to them from either an oral tradition or a pre-Markan writing, we do not know. We do know, however, that this more concise gospel is thought as written shortly after the desolation of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. That tremulous, destructive event in the life of Israel, happened to the Judean religious temple system in 70A.D. Therefore, since recorded in this gospel as written less than a decade later, the text here is barely subsequent in time to that historic fulfillment event.
 Consider this! In the previous text, Mark related that Jesus sat teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives, across from the temple. Jesus forecast that they would receive persecutions, and be beaten… and ridiculed concerning him. Our Lord taught that when they saw the desolation of that great temple, trouble would be coming upon all. Christians would even be blamed for its destruction.
 Jesus further told them that many persons would come and claim to be the Christ. As history would prove, the Roman war upon the temple cult and its followers unfolded just as prophesied. Life and light was quenched for the Jews at the siege of Masada, Given this historical setting then, recently unfolding for the writers of this gospel, the disciples clearly remembered the words of Jesus. Those who had been keen students of the prophets were made aware that this horrible event mirrored those prophetically spoken about many centuries before. (see Isaiah 13:10)
 The community responsible for this gospel writing remembered those teachings, and penned this text immediately for the readers of the church around the empire... that the here and now had arrived. They lifted up the vision of an unfolding kingdom. For their readers back then, the present age was emerging out of recent historical darkness and held foreboding for the church. Yes, the temple had been plundered and destroyed. The desolation of Roman symbols stood tall in the temple and the those authorities had desolated the sacrificial offering fires.
 Closer to their own home, the pleasant world of scripture readings within the Jewish synagogues had turned unstable… even hostile toward Christians. Tumultuous and confusing events of the day certainly made it seem that the sun no longer showed them the way forward. The moon seemed not to illuminate the way and guide those faith travelers through darkness. The stars… that we might guess were representative of the many leaders of the Judaic religion who had once seemed solidly fixed in the heavenly realms… had fallen. The desert wayfarers of the early Christian church were therefore feeling quite blind.
 Miraculously amid this desolation started by the desecration of the temple... followed by the massacre of Masada and the scattering of Jewish religious community… a brightness miraculously showed forth. Consider by this fact, that the infant community was truly realizing the enduring gift of the Holy Spirit. Through revelation they knew that the Son of Man was already present, and Jesus Christ was coming again.
 You see, a rather difficult name for some of us, “Son of Man” was the title given by prophetic writing as describing a special man. That man was a Deliverer, who was promised as sent to the world by God the Father. The Hebrew prophet Daniel had described him…

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. 
                                                                                            (Daniel 7:13-14)

Thus before the fall of the temple, Jesus had repeatedly taught that the Son of Man was described as the fulfillment of prophecy. The Son of Man was taught to be the one who would come with heavenly messengers... and his angels would speak the message of salvation… and they would gather his “elect” from far and wide.
 Consequently, by the time of the gospel writing, the infant church knew the Risen Jesus Christ had sent the Holy Spirit upon the church. They knew then that the revealed Son of Man and the Son of God were one in the same. In this way they knew the calling of the universal church. They were called out from the time set even before the gospel's writing.
 We can thus say that the early church was created at Pentecost and yet is eternal. The Church stands beyond any particular location and time. Therefore the gospel stated what was already happening, what was about to happen… and then offered us the wondrous message from  God about what to do as the End of all things occur.

Be Not Afraid!
In this last portion of prophecy, we moderns often get most confused. However, be comforted that we have had much company. Worry over the delay of those fearsome and wonderful end times seems problematically inherited, especially so for those who yet possess sinful and finite minds. Even blessed Saint Paul expected things to happen sooner. Take note however! Both the disciples and the early church of Mark were told by Jesus in simple agricultural analogy that things would unfold just as the events were described. Jesus instructed that the divinely-directed progression would occur and the saving gospel would go out fully in all earthly directions. Today, we need presently to note the “all” word here.
 The example of the fig tree teaches us that from the first speaking by our Lord on the Mount of Olives, events were already unfolding for the Christian church. His followers knew by the time of this writing that they were to do as instructed. They were to “watch” in an active way. Anticipating the end times then, they did watch. The Lord had said that “this generation shall not pass away” until they would see "all" that which was described. Indeed, they actively watched. As promised, the prophetic words of Jesus were, and still are true… for that generation was given and yet still has eternal life. That generation shall never pass away!
 They did so, and shall see the unfolding of the kingdom. Out of the ashes of temple flames and dispersed Judaism rose the eternal Christian church. Repeatedly, this is why the early church was told to actively… “Watch!”
 What then does this mean for us in the Christian church today? I believe that we are still in the growth stage of the Church. I offer that the fig tree is still springing forth toward flowering. Those who watched faithfully in the days of this writing saw the beginnings of what would come to be today. As sinful people saved only by grace through faith, neither our predecessors nor we... have even yet come close to seeing the full majesty of the kingdom. Each new day, and each liturgical year of the church at Advent... therefore spells out a surprising newness of gospel proclamation for us. Thus as a Christian pastor I say to you now… “Do not stand still, brothers and sisters in Christ!” Watch actively, working in faith... knowing that our Lord shall come again. When the End time does come, we shall stand together with those who have gone before us. Together we most certainly shall see our loving God as he was and is, and ever will be… as truly revealed in Christ Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End... who is our Lord. To this I say again and again... "Amen, Amen and Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”

 To view videos containing the Word of God poured out, go to our blog at:


 
He even makes the blind to see!


 
 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gate Wide Open!



WE HEAR from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, words spoken about a distinct, right freedom given to us as Christians. In reading for Christ the King Sunday, we hear that our gospel lesson provides us with a picture of final judgment. The Word tells about that which is expected of our Lord’s gathered flock…

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’
 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:31-46)

We’re Saved! What Now?
As the community of blessed Matthew gathered parchment and wrote this text, we find the Author of Life had intentionally reached very far geographically. By including that the message was written “for all nations” (In the Greek - οὐκ ἐδωκατε μοι φαγειν [pronounced ouk edōkate moi phagein] ), the text echoes from Matthew that our Lord reached out not only to a few of the original disciples gathered. Jesus has also addressed others far removed in place and time. Both those who were amid the early church of Matthew, but those out in the future world... were made also to be subject to final judgment. God’s Law is thus said to be immutable and eternal.

If we consider the source of judgmental power, we find that the text is very familiar to those who were part of either synagogue or separated church. From the psalmist we read… 

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God; and that to thee, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For thou dost requite a man according to his work.
                                                                (Psalm 62:11-12)

 Thus the declaration rings that all persons are subject to judgment. And from the Law we know that we fail according to that Law. This rolls forth as we are examined before the commandments (see Exodus 20:1-20).
 Additionally, all people are described by the prophets as but lowly sheep, and goats…grazing before their shepherds. In that status we are thus judged, even as to whether we are sheep, goats or shepherds. We read from the prophet that all humans, even the sheepish guilty…  will be judged, no matter our classification…

“Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”
                                                                                           (Ezekiel 34:20)

 Therefore, both the disciples who had firsthand heard Jesus’ teaching and those of Matthew’s later synagogue and early church… heard in the Sprit and could understand the pronouncement. The Hebrew scriptures were clear. We now, who have also been given this lesson, are subject to the same judgments. We who are Christians saved not by our own works, but by the grace of God through our baptism into Christ, must then ask about confirming our fate before God.
 To answer up, we must ask of scripture whether God will view us as authentically working in the eternal kingdom. We shall stand before God to find whether or not we have truly followed our Lord’s example. I find it particularly sinful and odd, that we sheep often think that we are goats and some goats think that they are sheep. Let us not judge the fate of one another, nor ourselves… but simply do as we are instructed. God has raised up our judge from the tomb, and thus it is that we should not perform that ultimate, judgmental task on our own  merits. We as his flock are simply called to do as instructed by him. His words to us were simply put. We are to love God, and love one another.

Obedient Sheep?
What does the duality of these instructions look like today? Examine the descriptive passages spoken by our lesson. As followers of our Lord, we see that we are to work as a forgiven people. Even though originally found as sinful, the forgiven church is also thankfully to work toward fulfilling our tasks in the kingdom.
 To do this, we are to share not just simple drink and food, but the waters of Holy Baptism and the body and blood of Christ. We are to seek out and welcome those who are estranged from God, providing them also with proper, enduring clothing… especially the whitest robe of saintly baptism.
 You see, as the gathered in the Good Shepherd’s kingdom, we are called to work for the freedom of those imprisoned by sin… opening wide the heavenly gates so that even though held by the bonds of this fallen earth… these too shall know that they are truly made free by faith given to them in Jesus Christ. This is the task of those in the one, true church. Of those who do not accept this task, the scripture speaks clearly. When all things have been said and done, persons who have not accepted these commands as their own, shall be cast out.
 Many persons have been saved unto eternal life by the faith given through the grace of God. Indeed also, those who are baptized into the kingdom are made by witnesses as aware of the mercy supplied by the sacrificial blood of the Lamb, who is Christ our Lord. Also be sure, however, that any of us who fail to strive and live according to the model that Jesus has set before his church… who gave himself for even the sinful… shall be judged as voracious goats who have eaten at the manger. We trample upon the blessed food given.
 Thus it is said to us on Christ the King Sunday. As individuals before God, we need to consider whether we are really called to be trotting alone and cantankerous amid a sinful world, or should we be gathered together by the Holy Spirit as sheep with the rest of the true flock.
 To do this last deed, will indeed be pleasing to our Good Shepherd. Shall we see you in church? Will the baptized participate in Confession and hear Absolution? I hope so, for we need to be joined at the table of our Lord, for he is surely our loving Judge and Savior.