Category: pastors

Crossroads

Sermon

Pentecost 21A
Sunday November 6, 2011.

Ocean Forest

Crossroads
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


 

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Friends, crossroads in life often create grief for us. When something highly valued is lost, a crossroad is created and we have to make choices about what was once a sure thing, because the straight road we were on has now become a fork in the road or a crossroad. We grieve what was and have to face a more uncertain future.This is what has happened to us now with me announcing that I will no longer be the pastor of this community. What was stable and trusted is now being removed and the future looks more like a crossroad than a straight road.

 I spoke to the secondary school Thursday about all of this and focussed on that thing that happens to us all the time; grief. I told the kids that grief is a normal part of life that can happen over many things – from a breakup with and girl or guy, to a the death of a loved pet, to even grieving over childhood simplicity lost in the teen years.

When you think about it, hardly a week or a month goes by when we don’t grieve the loss of something. We still grieve the loss of a loved one years after the actual event. Time heals the pain of it but we remember and even years later, feel some sense of the loss. We grieve the loss of our working life when we retire, the loss of our schooling life when we graduate, the loss of a our dreams in a divorce, the loss of constant contact with kids in the same, the loss of our pristine beauty as we age, the loss of our hair……..
Sometimes of course, there is shocking kind of grief – a loss we did not expect, or even if we did, never really thought it would happen – like a Pastor leaving a congregation. You know it would probably happen one day, but you are never really ready for it when it happens.

It is interesting that God’s word suggests there is a difference between how those who are in relationship with Jesus and his people grieve these things and those who are not in a faith relationship with him and his people. St Paul, in our text, speaks of those who “grieve without hope”, and those who “grief with hope”. So, we baptised people of faith in Jesus Christ can grieve like others, but somehow differently, with the gift of hope – even in our grieving.

This “hope” is the biblical kind of hope; not a wishful thinking for the future kind of hope, but a sure, solid, bankable hope; a hope not in our own ability or wisdom and skill, but a hope in God’s grace, power and future – a hope standing solid on God’s solid promises kind of hope.

So we grieve with solid hope in God’s future for us. Paul outlines the final end to life as we know it – both for those who won’t taste actual physical death, and those who will before Jesus delivers on his promise to bring all things to their rightful and timely end to begin the new age with him.

15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 …. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

In the hope that is Jesus.What does it mean for us to “grieve with hope”? One thing it doesn’t mean is that we will not grieve at all. Jesus’ followers will grieve as often as those who don’t know his grace and power. Grief will happen and grief is not to be denied or diminished as unimportant or treated as “bad”. Grief is grief and that is all there is to it. Grief can make us feel all at sea for a while. Grief can tempt us to give up on things and just go and hide somewhere to be safe. But grief approached like this will do damage and debilitate us further, rather than bring us to new insight, thankfulness and life.
Paul is actually encouraging his people to grieve – or at least not shun or try and hide grief. He is saying, “you will grief”. But what he is offering those who suffer loss is hope in their grieving and a future well-being founded on Jesus and his promises and grace.

Friends, you will grieve as things look and feel different for the next few months after Christmas when I am gone. This is not to be denied, minimised or shunned as unimportant or something to be hidden. In my experience and in this text, grief is best dealt with by talking about it, sharing it and “encouraging each other with these words” as Paul says.

Grief is normal and talking about it with each other is how it is processed well so that grief passes and changes into thankfulness and even a quiet joy about what has been and what is to come in the Lord’s plan for us.

I told the kids to think of grief this way
Grief = I should talk about it

Grief can and does naturally produce anger, confusion and doubt of God’s plan and promises.

Can I encourage you with my words on this? Share your sense of loss at losing your pastor. Talk with me about it if you need to. Share it, speak of it and help each other through it. In this way you will pass over the crossroad before you and with faith in Jesus and his future for you in his plan and promises, grief will turn to thankfulness and even a quiet joy again.

In time I reckon we will all look back on these years together and be able to say, “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for all we shared and did together”. And with that will come hope. You will enter a Call process with the District president. You will be directed to ponder where you are at a congregation in mission and what you might need in the pastor you will eventually call. Eventually, a Pastor you have called will arrive and another leg of the journey will be before you and this will be good. It is then that this grief will be no more and only thankfulness will remain, and that will be good.

On a final note: If you remain a person in the Lutheran family in your life’s journey of faith in Jesus, this very text will be the first word from the Bible that your children, grandchildren and friends will hear as they gather for your funeral.

This text is the Word of comfort proclaimed in the Lutheran funeral rite. Even in that big grief, there will the sure hope of the resurrection from your death proclaimed to all who will hear it.

Ultimately this is all of our ending. Whatever happens, this will happen. You will be gathered into this hopeful “sleep” as St Paul calls it. Rest is as constant a companion as grief for the Christian – we rest in God’s presence every time two or three gather in his name. We rest in his presence every day that we remember our baptism and daily die to sin and live with him. We rest at the last trumpet call as we are gathered together in him.

Grieve with hope, friends. Hope is ours. This too will pass and new things will come and from beginning to end, we will be hopeful and thankful for all that the Lord has given and then gives. Amen.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm:
be there at our sleeping and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope…

Living Together 5


Sermon:
Living it Together
1 & 2 Timothy Sep 12 – October 24, 2010.
Pentecost 21C, Week 5

Word Searching
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (New International Version)
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 4
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Leanne and I viewed that new movie with Julia Roberts staring called “Eat, Pray, Love”. It was a very “now” kind of story of divorce, marriage, spiritual searching, inner journey and an honest attempt to reflect on love and life and the meaning of it all. It is also so very orientated on the self and the whole notion of “the god within” and finding one-self. God is so human that he is no longer objective or divine.

In contrast and direct challenge, Paul, at the end of his life and his life’s work does not point us to look within ourselves only (even though this is necessary for wisdom and understanding),  but to search outside ourselves – not mainly with our eyes but more with our ears to an Outside presence and teacher.

How can Paul, a man in a dark prison, who has lived his life fearlessly, boldly and seen great acts of God played out right before his eyes and through his very word and presence, very human and flawed though they be, stay faithful, and more importantly hopeful about his own life and the life of all of us?

How can this master keep his young apprentice, Timothy, in the game of life and ministry? How can Paul trust that the church he has had a huge hand in planting around the Mediterranean will stay strong, truthful, faithful and full of life as he wallows in a seemingly hopeless bondage to godlessness?

Closer to home, how can you and I as parents or grandparents or teachers of students have any kind of real hope that we have done enough for faith to win the day in our kid’s lives?

As people who know the love and power of Jesus, we dearly want that for the next generation. We want that for our own kids and grandkids, but it seem too precarious in them. Having lived a little longer than them, we know how hard things will be for them in this ever secular, oversexed, material culture in which we live.

How do we find a hope that God will keep them and they will keep God and all that they have been taught regarding faith in God through our lives – again, imperfect though they be?

The truth is that in ourselves we have no such hope. Without God’s direct intervention from outside of us; without God’s powerful love and grace operating within us and in our relationships with those we mentor, teach and encourage, any hope that kids, grandkids, students and friends will run the race of faith with strength and loyalty to the Lord would be just wishful thinking.

But with the one thing God gives us that we all can access and be helped to understand in our hearts we can hope and we can trust.

When it seems that your hopes are being dashed, or you just don’t feel up to life and work and parenting and being church; when you are not sure if your leadership is the best it can be or you’ve got what it takes to do all the things you know God wants you to do, the thing that will sustain you and keep you hoping, even against hope, is the Word of the Living God.

I don’t know what is going on for you these days – where your fears are, where your hope is fragile and your faith is diminished, but the direction from the Spirit given to Timothy is to “continue in what he has already learned in life from God”.

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it

Not only will hope remain as Timothy remembers the things he has come to understand from God’s grace being poured out into his life in many and various ways through the Word, hope will be strengthened by also remembering those who did the teaching; those through whom God graced his life – beginning with his childhood mentors.

…….you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Friends, I can tell you that I get despondent about many things – as you probably do. I get despondent about my work, my parenting, my husbanding, my health, my selfishness, my idols, my regrets and sorrows.

I get despondent about the world and the state of affairs. I get despondent when the big companies deny the little people justice or when corruption has its way or when another sporting cheat is found out in the sporting arena and so it goes.
We should not be at all surprised by all we find stressing, worrying and threatening. Paul has no illusions when he speaks of what he sees in the future (and the present).

The old man says to the young man, “. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

That’s a damning word on how we human beings carry on. I can relate to what Paul is seeing. I see it. I see it in our community, our world and in my own heart!
Paul says he has “run the race of faith in God’s power and grace”. Somehow he has got there through all his despondent and dangerous times. Somehow he has been led through his own foibles and pain to be on the edge of the great reward which he seems to be almost able to taste and see as he writes this final letter to his son.
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.

7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Are we longing for his appearing? Probably not, most of time anyway. There is so much to be and do. Good things I mean; faith-filled things like teaching the kids, loving our partner, friends and learning to be a better human being.

But there are times when the thought of Jesus coming to wrap everything up and deliver on his promise to bring in a new heaven and earth – a new existence in his presence seems a pretty good option!

Paul’s is there. He wants Timothy and all those who will hear these words throughout generations to be there too – and find the faith he has been given.
There is only one place to find it, he is saying. It is in the God-breathed, God-charged living Word which the Spirit fills.

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Friends, if you want to be equipped for life, parenting, working, wise decision making, recovering from grief, divorce, loss, and regret, staying truthful and honest and showing others how to stay there too, then the Scriptures are the force behind bringing those things to fruition in your life.

I know. You know this is the case but somehow we just never get to actually taking God’s word personally and putting this kind of weight on it in our week. We know the theory but struggle to do something about the practice.

What I am hearing is a little bit of the Word is better than no Word. Taking time to receive God’s word here most weekends is good. It is better than not being here and not hearing the Word with other travelers – not just the spoken Word of a sermon, but the word in the praying, the singing, the liturgy, the silence; the actions of the Spirit that free us and forgive us. Keep that up.

But there is a few more moments than Sunday morning to live and that is where I know it is hard. Then again, is it that hard? We consume plenty of other media. We do tend to over work. We fill our days up to the full with lots of things – many good, some not do good.

I hear Paul urging Timothy to “stay in the Word” however he can. For Timothy in his calling it is preaching the word. He is to;

2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction…

It definitely sounds like the Word in our lives is a long term and demanding thing requiring patience and great care. Its message is not always immediate; its meaning from the Spirit is not always easily heard or understood at first – so it requires time and space and intent, and conversation with fellow hearers, like producing a good garden, making a house a home, raising children, becoming good at a complex skill.

The difference between hearing the Word of God and hearing and learning other things is that God’s Word is supernatural. It is spiritually charged by the Spirit of Jesus. He speaks when it is spoken. It has power to make wisdom part of us, to shape us internally, to give us God’s life in our life. That is Paul’s belief.

So he says, speak it, learn it, share it – at all times, when the going is easy and when it is not; when it is well received and when they look at you funny.

God, help us search for the truth and include your Word in our search as we strive to stay faithful to you and one day reach the end of the race of faithful life and receive your great reward – now and then. Amen