Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, and Luke 21:25-38

 I’m willing to bet that there are some preachers out there who looked at today’s lectionary texts and said, “Oh, great.  This stuff!”  If you’re not familiar with the lectionary, it is a preacher’s tool.  It has four Scriptures for each Sunday, usually an Old Testament, a Psalm, a Gospel, and a New Testament reading.  I find the advantage of the lectionary is that it pushes you to preach about things that you might not choose to preach about.  I don’t always use it, though more often than not, I do.  Some preachers never use it.  And I’m willing to bet some preachers don’t care for today’s Gospel lesson, because it’s about the end of the world.  

 Some churches downplay that part of the Gospel.  It is seen as the realm of extremists, like the street preachers shouting “The end is near!”  But if you’re going to read the Bible honestly, you have to contend with it.  In three of the four Gospels, Jesus speaks extensively about the end of the world.  It also appears in the writings of Peter, Paul, and John’s Revelation, not to mention numerous times in the Old Testament.  It’s hard to ignore.  

 And one way or another, the world will end.  Life as we know it will not continue forever.  Maybe not soon, but some day it will end.  Even the most scientifically-minded person, someone who denies the very existence of God, would admit as much. 

 Even if the world doesn’t end anytime soon, our world will end sometime.  Or maybe something will happen that will make it seem as if our world is ending:  A disease, a disaster, a divorce, a death.  Life is full of uncertainty and it is easy to give into fear.  What can we do? 

 The prophet Jeremiah was speaking to people on the edge of their world ending.  Jerusalem was teetering on the brink.  They had already suffered defeat.  Many of their people had been taken into exile.  Babylon was coming back to finish the job.  They would be taken away from the land of God’s promise.  What hope could there be for people in that situation?  

 Jeremiah spoke of God’s hope of a future restoration, of the coming of a righteous king, of a time when they would dwell in peace and safety.  

 That is also our hope, but we understand that hope in a cosmic sense.  Our hope isn’t in this world, and we won’t find it here.  Unrest, war, terrorism, disasters, diseases,

hardships, economic uncertainties, environmental crises, and the list goes on and on.  Those are the things we can expect in this world.  Our hope must come from something greater than this world.

 Six hundred years after the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus spoke to his disciples on the Mount of Olives.  The language of his prophecy is very similar to the other messages about the end of this world.  He speaks of strange signs in the heavens.  The first century Jewish historian Josephus also wrote of signs in the heavens in the days before the Jerusalem was destroyed, just 40 years after Jesus spoke these words.  

 Jesus speaks of nations in turmoil, strange seas, and roaring tides.  In the ancient world, the sea was a symbol of the powers of death and chaos.  It was a source of great fear.  And the courage of many will fail in the light of these things.  But even if heaven and earth disappear, Jesus tells us his words will not fail.  

 So he tells us to be watchful.  The proper attitude of a follower of Jesus in the light of all the fear and uncertainty of this life is to be watchful and faithful.  We must not get caught up in careless ease or drunkenness or be overwhelmed by the worries of this life.  Some older translations of the Bible render that phrase as “dissipation.”  That’s probably not a word familiar to many of us.  Dissipation is a letting go of all restraint.  It might best be expressed as “living it up.”  

 It is the response of those who have no hope.  If there is no hope in your life, then what is better than to “make the most of it,” to “live in the moment.”  It is the attitude that says, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  There is nothing more to live for, so you may as well at least enjoy the moment.  Maybe you’ve experienced that at some point in your life.  Probably most of us do.    

 I talked with a friend of mine not that ago.  She had some experiences in her life that made it seem as if her world had ended.  And she, for a time, gave up hope.  She talked about spending too many nights in a bar, drinking till she couldn’t remember, too many mornings waking in some stranger’s bed.  Fortunately, she realized the emptiness of that kind of living, and she returned to the faith of her youth.  But some don’t.  Some get lost in dissipation, and the further down that road you go, the further you have to go to be able to still feel some excitement in it.  

 If we have no concept of anything more than this life, what else is there?  We can try to “make the most of life,” but we’re always going to have the knowledge that it just won’t last long.  

 Some try to make the world a better place.  That is a noble goal.  But how has it worked out?  I would argue that almost all attempts to make the world a better place have failed to some degree.  We certainly haven’t eliminated war or poverty or hatred or violence.  We haven’t eliminated disease.  We’ve eliminated smallpox, polio, and some others, but in their place we die of heart disease and cancer.  Some might say technology has made the world better.  But for all our technology, we are more and more isolated from one another.  We stare at a phone instead of talking to the people we share a table with.  I think rather than making a bad world good, our attempts to make the world better have really just made it a different kind of bad.  From a Christian perspective, it is because we can’t change the human condition:  We are sinners, in a state of rebellion against God.  

 It’s not that we shouldn’t try to make the world a better place.  We just need to know the limits.  We should try to alleviate human suffering, but we need to know that we’re never going to succeed, at least not totally.  

 Jesus also warns us about getting overwhelmed by the worries of this life.  We can get anxious about trying to have security in this world:  physical security, emotional security, financial security.  And it’s just not going to happen.  You can’t have security in a broken world.  

 This time of the year can tempt us.  What is “Black Friday” if not a day to be overwhelmed by the worries of this life?  It is a day for lusting after material things, a day for “living in the moment,” and a day of anxiety:  Will I be able to afford it?  

 Our duty is to keep watch and keep hope.  Hope has been called a distinctly Christian idea.  That might be a bit of an overstatement.  I think people who don’t know Christ also have hope, but a different kind of hope.  And hope is certainly essential the Christian faith.  

 The return of Jesus gives us hope.  Our hope is in what God will do, not what might happen or in what we ourselves can do.  And the turmoil of this world should not steal our hope.  The turmoil of this world tells us that it will not last.  But we have the hope of a new world, free from turmoil and death and pain.  

 In 1 Thessalonians, Paul prays that God would “fill up anything that is missing in your faith.”  Where do you need to be filled up?  Does your love need to be filled up?  Does your courage need to be filled up?  Does your holiness need to be filled up?  Whatever we need, God can fill it, if we give him the opportunity and pray sincerely that he will.

 I want to close with a thought on Luke 21.  In the last two verses of the chapter, Luke tells us that at the end of each day, Jesus returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives.  

 That’s interesting, because elsewhere in the Gospels we read that Jesus and the disciples spent the night in the village of Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives.  There was no village on top of the Mount of Olives.  So why does Luke say that?  

 My suspicion is that Jesus slept in Bethany, but spent the evenings on the Mount of Olives.  We know Jesus often slipped away from the crowds to spend time alone in prayer or with his disciples.  The Mount of Olives would be a place where Jesus could escape the crowds.  It would have been a quiet place of prayer and rest, away from the turmoil and stress of Jerusalem.  This was, after all, the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  Certainly he needed time in prayer, to be “filled up” by God.  If Jesus was truly human, he needed time alone with God to be filled up just as much as you and I do.  

 We can’t face the turmoil of the world if we are not taking the time to be filled up in our quiet time with God.  

 The Christmas season is a stressful time of the year.  We might feel overwhelmed.  So I want to encourage you to make that quiet time with God.  Don’t just keep pushing ahead, don’t give in to all the pressures of the world around you.  Make time with God.  So that your hope and courage will stay strong.  

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