Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Living Advent

2 Peter 3:8-15a

 Not too long ago preaching a sermon on 2 Timothy.  And I said at that time that 2 Timothy is significant because it represents the “last words” of the Apostle Paul, at least his last written words.  And we often attach a lot of significance to “last words,” especially when the person speaking has good reason to think they are speaking their last words.  If you know you’re going to die, what will you say?  You won’t waste your time with frivolous things.  You’re only going to speak things that matter.

 Well, 2 Peter is Peter’s last words.  Peter, for many years, has been one of the principal leaders of the fledgling Christian Church.  What is he going to say?  He is writing at a time of persecution, around 67 AD.  Between the revolt in Judea and the persecution of Christians in Rome by Emperor Nero, thousands of Christians are dying for their faith.  

 We know that many expected Christ to return soon.  And there seemed to be a growing frustration that he had not yet returned, exacerbated by the persecution of the Church.  

 “You must not forget, beloved friends, a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”  The quote is from Psalm 90:4.  Time doesn’t have the same meaning to an eternal God as it does to us.  God created time, and he exists apart from time, as we know it.  

 And he is not slow.  He is patient.  He wants to give as much time as possible for people to repent of their sin and be restored to right relationship with him.  In the prophet Ezekiel, we read, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.”  God’s desire is that in time, everyone will repent and turn to him.  God’s patience comes out of his love and mercy.

 But God is also just and holy.  And a just and holy God must eventually deal with sin and rebellion.  So eventually, the Day of the Lord will come.

 Peter describes it in rather chilling words:  “The heavens will pass away with a terrible roar.  The very elements themselves will disappear in fire.  The earth and everything on it will be found to deserve God’s judgment.”  Sounds like a bad day.  And it will be for those under God’s judgment.  But for those who have been purified by

God’s grace received through faith, it will be a joyful day, because it will be the end of this fallen and corrupted creation and the coming of a new creation, free from all death, pain, and sadness.  

 I think we tend toward the extremes when it comes to the Day of the Lord.  On one hand, there are some believers who are obsessed with it.  They are constantly looking for signs that they think will show it’s near.  They obsess over the questions of when.  And often the assumption is that it is going to happen any day now.  Some even say that “the end times have already started” because of some event, a solar eclipse this past August, for example.

 On the other hand, there are some believers who kind of ignore it.  Some theological persuasions minimize the return of Christ and pretend that we can bring God’s Kingdom on earth by our own efforts.  

 And certainly in the world, we see that there are some people who live with what I would call a willful ignorance about their own end, their own death.  

 I think all of these perspectives are lacking in some way.  In all things we need to strive for balance.  When it comes to time and life and the day of the Lord, we need to have balance.  On one hand, the return of Christ is always imminent.  It can happen at any time.  Only God knows when.  So we need to live watchful, alert lives.

 On the other hand, it’s been almost 2000 years, and in spite of many predictions that “It’s happening soon,” it hasn’t happened yet!  So we should also take account of what it will mean if we live out the rest of our days, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, in this world.  

 That can be a hard balance to strike, but both perspectives are necessary.

 Any discussion of the future is really only beneficial so far as it affects how we live in the present.  It doesn’t do the financial planner any good to talk to you about how much money you’re going to need to save and invest to live to 85 years old if you don’t take the steps you need to take right now to make that happen.  Likewise, it doesn’t do any good to talk about the return of Christ if it doesn’t change how you live in the light of it.  Rather than obsessing about “When will it happen?” the better question is “What are you doing about it?”

 “What holy, godly lives you should be living.  Live pure and blameless lives, at peace with God.”  Peter talks about some of the same things in chapter one of this

letter.  He writes, “Make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.”  

 If everything in this world is going to be destroyed, then we should live our lives in the light of things eternal.  We should live our lives to honor the eternal God and to enter into his eternal Kingdom.  

 So many things in this life are just not worth the effort people put into them.  

 I get called to do funerals for people I don’t know.  And to be honest, when I get those calls, the funeral messages all end up being pretty similar.  It’s kind of like, “Well, am I going to preach funeral sermon one, two, or three this time?”  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I basically end up talking about the same themes, but they’re the themes that need to be spoken at that time.  I can’t let that occasion pass without talking about matters of life and death, present and eternity, and the gospel.

 One of the passages I often use at funerals is from the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes is basically trying to answer the question, “What is truly good and worthwhile in life?  What things are not worth our devotion and what things are?”  

 In Ecclesiastes 7, the author writes, “Better to go to a funeral than a party.  Everyone is going to die.  We should take this to heart.  A wise person thinks often about death.”  

 I often ask the question at funerals, “What are you pouring your life into?  Are you investing yourself in things that really matter?”  And the author of Ecclesiastes points out that a lot of the things people go chasing after in this life are like chasing the wind.  You can’t catch the wind.  And many of the things people pour themselves into are just unable to bring any kind of lasting satisfaction.

 If you read through Ecclesiastes, you’ll find he talks about a lot of these things that are like chasing the wind:  The accumulation of knowledge, success, accomplishments, the enjoyment of pleasurable things, the accumulation of wealth, getting ahead of others, fame, and power.  None of those can bring lasting joy or satisfaction.  

 But a life oriented toward God can.  The God-centered life can give us peace.  It can give us a sense of purpose and direction in life.  It can bring hope and joy.  And in God we find the assurance that we are loved and we learn to love others.  

 The season of Advent is supposed to be a time when we are reminded of the return of Christ and called to live in the light of eternity.  It stands in stark contrast to the “holiday season.”  The holiday season, Thanksgiving through New Year’s, is often the most stressful time of the year.  We are busy.  We obsessed with temporary things:  Food, social occasions, buying, and receiving gifts.  It’s hardly the “most wonderful time of the year.”  

 Which way are we oriented?  Are we living in the light of Advent or in the light of the “holiday season?”  Because one of them is like chasing the wind.  One of them will never bring lasting joy, peace, or satisfaction to our lives.

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