Sermon Options: August 11, 2019

June 25th, 2019

A PARENT IN THE POOL

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

Our younger son was learning to swim last summer. He felt comfortable so long as he had one hand on the concrete edge of the pool or was standing in water no deeper than chin level. However, convincing him to step into deeper water or let go of the solid surety of the pool wall was not an easy task. He only relented if Mom or Dad were nearby, promising to catch him if he began to sink. Little by little we backed farther away, each time exhorting him to "use those arms, and kick those feet!" but always reassuring him of our presence if arms and feet should fail. In time he mastered the water and now enjoys diving from the board on the deep end. But he still prefers that a parent be swimming beneath the board just in case.

Often before foul shots or at bat, professional athletes cross themselves. Those athletes have spent years mastering their trades and are the world's best at what they do. Even so, the act of crossing is a request that a loving Parent be near giving them sufficient confidence to tread the water before them.

One day an opposing batter crossed himself before stepping to the plate. Yogi Berra, catching for the New York Yankees, called "time out." Standing face to face with the batter, Yogi crossed himself and then asked, "Now what are you going to do?" The truth is, all of us want to know a loving Parent is nearby when we face deep waters, close enough to catch us if we begin to sink.

Our lesson speaks of a sense of confidence that God, the loving Parent, is near. Even when God cannot be seen the author believes in the unfailing nearness. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (v. 1). United Methodist Bishop Bevel Jones says: "Faith is hearing tomorrow's music, and hope is dancing to it today!" Such is the belief professed in this lesson, a "conviction of things hoped for."

The author illustrates primarily by reference to Abraham and Sarah. They followed God's lead even when it amounted to no more than "things not seen." God led them to a new land. Abraham had no idea where that land was or what it held in store, but he faithfully followed because he believed God's plans and purposes were always superior to his own. His faith in turn profoundly influenced Isaac and Jacob (v. 9) and equipped them for faithful ministry, as well.

Long after childbearing years had passed, Sarah believed God's promise that she and Abraham would bear a child (v. 11). "Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore" (v. 12). The author's description of Abraham ("and him as good as dead") is an obvious exaggeration. After age one hundred, Abraham fathered several children with Sarah (herself ninety) and later, with another wife named Keturah. As good as dead? I don't think so.

Several years ago George Jones recorded a song with lyrics that said "I don't want your rocking chair, your Geritol or Medicare." He has a lot of living to do and isn't ready to sit still and worry about his gray hair.

Centuries earlier Abraham and Sarah demonstrated that ageism is not only sinful, it's also silly. Age is rarely an impediment to useful service. Often just the opposite, it enhances our ability to be used by God. By the turn of the new century, retired adults in America will outnumber actively employed adults. Retired persons have experience and wisdom acquired only by living a number of years. Often they have more time to offer the church and more energy to invest in the world than those of us who labor eight to five. Part of the faith espoused in this passage is a faith that God can use people of age to work miracles, and those who discount that cheat themselves.

An even greater statement, though, for persons of all ages is that God is with us, in us, behind, before, and around us. An unseen Presence guides us into what may seem like foreign or frightening lands where we are surprised by victories, beauties, and love. (See vv. 8-10.) When faced with deep waters, a loving Parent is close at hand to lift us if we sink and to lead us where we need to go. (Michael B. Brown)

READY OR NOT

LUKE 12:32-40

An adult Sunday school class was studying sayings about "the end time" in the Gospels. Some were troubled and confused by Jesus' use of symbols to describe the coming judgment: lamps lit, loins girded, wise and foolish maidens, a thief in the night, and so on. In an attempt to modernize the language, the pastor asked if they had seen or experienced something that made them think the end was near. One woman recounted her fear during the Cuban Missile Crisis, back in the early 1960s. Another described feelings of horror when her ancestral home in Hiroshima was destroyed in a nuclear attack. Still others noted destruction of the environment or threat of collision with a comet. Everyone present agreed that helplessness and dread compounded their fears.

In this passage from Luke, Jesus seems to give conflicting instructions to his followers. On the one hand, in vv. 32-34 he tells them not to be fearful, to trust their loving Father, and to divest themselves of possessions in order to help the poor. On the other hand, he tells them to be watchful and on guard lest they be found unprepared when the Son of Man comes. How can we be on guard and have no fear simultaneously? The answer is obscure if we look at this passage in isolation; however, when examined in light of other eschatological sayings of Jesus, the seeming contradiction is resolved. This is because three consistent threads run through all New Testament sayings about the end.

I. Jesus Will Come Again
In this passage, explicit mention of the Son of Man does not come until verse 40. Different titles and metaphors are used throughout the New Testament to describe Christ's return: the bridegroom, the householder, Lord Jesus, Alpha and Omega. The language varies, but the message is consistent; Jesus Christ will come again. Human history is moving toward its culmination. The ultimate victory and power are God's.

The earliest confessions of faith, such as Philippians 2:5-11 and the Apostles' Creed, imply or state this promise openly. Faith in God's promise was a great comfort to early Christians suffering persecution, and it should be an encouragement to us today in whatever sorrow or threat we find ourselves. Evil will not have the last word. God in Christ will return and reign forever.

II. We Don't Know When Jesus Will Come
Verse 40 says the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus says not even the Son of Man knows when this will happen; the Father alone has the secret. Ever since the Ascension, believers have tried to figure out when Christ will return. They refer to "signs of the times" noted in the Bible, as though God's Word were a timetable, but even when Jesus indicated harbingers of the end, he cautioned that no one could predict the date when it would happen. Trying to second-guess God is not only futile, but also contradicts what our Lord instructs us to do.

III. We're Called to Be Ready for Jesus' Coming
It is normal to feel powerless in the face of impending catastrophe, such as collision with a comet. There is nothing an individual or church can do to prepare for such an event. But we can prepare for the return of Christ, whenever it occurs. The Bible tells us how to be ready: by repenting of our sins, believing that Jesus is the Messiah, being baptized in the triune name. Furthermore, we are prepared when we live faithfully as his disciples.

In this passage, followers are advised to sell their possessions and give alms. Elsewhere, disciples are instructed to proclaim the gospel to others, that they may prepare for Christ's coming. Finally, readiness means acknowledging there will be tribulations and sorrow along the way, but claiming the divine promise that victory is ultimately the Lord's. (Carol M. Norén)

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