Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 25, 2012, "New Heaven, New Earth"

Jonah 4.9-11; Revelation 21.1-8

We end our End Times Series today … 

I’ve tried to make it clear to you that the End belongs to God. Period! 

He’s got the whole world in his hands.

And good are the hands of God!

And good is God’s creation … a big universe ...ancient and wondrous … full of mystery and glory.

Billions of years old … billions of years to come … which is why Christian liturgies use the expression, world without end!

Dinosaurs ruled the earth for a 165 million years, and disappeared 60 million years ago … hominids, our early ancestors, appeared 3.5 million years ago … homo sapiens, our specific ancestors, appeared only 250,000 years ago … 

We’re the new kids on the block … newcomers to God’s mighty creation … and we share 99% of our DNA with the chimps.

My wife knows this for certain - she’s always telling me, “Quit acting like a monkey!”

The universe is big.

The universe had a life all of its own before we showed up.

And long after we’re gone, the universe will continue to grow and expand … new life forms will emerge … many of those forms will be here only for awhile, and then go the way of the dinosaurs.

Things come; things go … it’s the way of life … God made it that way … yet God loves all life … you and me, and all creatures, great and small.

God makes that clear to Jonah!

I care for that great city of Nineveh … it may be your enemy; you may hate them, but I love what I made, and I want to redeem everything, make everything new … including animals … they, too, belong to me … the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and everything that crawls upon the face of the earth.

Jonah, what’s your problem?

Jonah’s problem?

Small thinking … Jonah lives in tiny world driven by friend and foe … Jonah hated Nineveh, and hated even more that God loved Nineveh - enough to send Jonah there - to proclaim the Word of the LORD, in the hope of repentance and new life.

Jonah wanted blood and death for Nineveh … when Nineveh repented, Jonah was furious, so furious he wanted to die.

What’s your problem Jonah? Jonah couldn’t think big!  

Christians need big thinking … big enough to encompass the whole wide world … Christians can’t afford little thinking … and the world can’t afford it either.

In the Book of Revelation, little thinkers have no place in the kingdom of God! 

You would think … of all the people on the face of the earth, Christians should be big thinkers … 

But sometimes Christians think small.

Folks fascinated by “end times” are small thinkers … they live in a small world, defined by the moment - calculations, hopes and fears; close their eyes to the big picture; refuse to see the glory of God … try to figure things out, pry into the secret things of God … then pretend to understand the deep mysteries of God … tell the world they have it all figured out … in the words of Revelation 21.8 - they are liars, idolators, they cast spells on their audience - they are small thinkers!

Creationists ignore science and preach an earth only 7000 years old - small thinkers.

Christians who believe that rape is God’s will, that a woman’s body has a mechanism to shut down when it’s “legitimate rape” - small thinkers.

Pat Robertson complains about atheists stealing Christmas - Robertson is a small thinker; if anyone has stolen Christmas, it’s corporate America and Wall Street … the American hymn of greed: buy, buy, and buy some more. 

Robertson says, “I missed God’s message about the recent election” … he’s missed a lot of messages … he’s a small thinker.

But enough of that …

Big-minded Christians look at the starry sky above, the wonders of Grand Canyon, and enjoy the immensity of it all.

We’re not afraid of being small … it’s okay to be small be … a tiny creature on the face of the earth, in a solar system tucked away in a far corner of the Milky Way … small as we are, we don’t have to be small thinkers.

The world is marvelous; we can see it, we can live in it, we can love it … we can love one another, we can love the creator who made us all.

But now a pastoral question - what about loved ones … what about those who have died?

Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians make it clear - our loved ones are safe with Christ … they wait with Christ for the final trumpet, that great gettin’ up morning … body and soul reunited … flesh and spirit once again conjoined … the world made new … a new heaven and a new earth.

When will this happen, we ask?

It is not ours to know, and who cares when it will happen? What counts - it will happen! It’s happening right now, because God is at work in all things, in all things for good, redeeming God’s creation and making all things new. Can you not see it? Isaiah asks.

This earth is God’s beloved creation … God is saving all of it … all of its creatures, great and small … every tree, every rock, every drop of water … because it’s all good … God has no intention of throwing it away.

And neither should we!

If ever there is a reason for ecological responsibility, this is it - this is God’s world, God’s beloved world … and, yes, we can tap its resources, but do so with wisdom and care and restraint.

In the delta region of Nigeria, the Amazon forest of Brazil, the mountains of West Virginia, the spoilage is enormous … land ruined, water polluted, wildlife destroyed … whole areas uninhabitable - is this pleasing to God, when human beings trash the world God created? If a thief broke into our home and vandalized it, what would we think?

I think of the Good Samaritan story - a man beaten by robbers and left to die by the side of the road? Might we think of this as a parable of the earth today? Beaten bloody by robbers, who take what they want, and leave the earth dying by the side of the road? And who’s the Good Samaritan? ... but the one who looks with mercy on the earth, sees its wounds, goes to its aid, makes provisions for its care and healing. Sad to say - in the parable, it’s the religious ones who turn the blind eye to the beaten man.

Are Christians guilty of turning a blind eye when it comes to God’s good earth?

Christians can never turn a blind eye to any company, or any government, that despoils God’s good earth in order to make a profit for shareholders who live far away from the suffering, suffering created by the drive for wealth.

Christians have to think big … because God is big!

The Scottish National Museum, in partnership with museums in Malawi and Zambia, is celebrating the bicentenary birthday of explorer and medical missionary, David Livingstone, born March 19, 1813, near Glasgow, Scotland.

British explorers mostly served colonial interests, and missionaries often did the same thing - but not so David Livingstone.

Lovemore Mazibuko, director of museums of Malawi, said Livingstone was still venerated in southern Africa for his work as a missionary, doctor and educator, and above all for his bitter opposition to the slave trade prevalent at the time and his vision for legitimate trade and commerce for the region.
Mazibuko said: Livingstone brought an end to the slave trade and in that sense he is regarded as a liberator...he changed people's perception on the way people related to one another irrespective of tribe, irrespective of their colour, irrespective of their social status."

Livingston died May 1, 1873 - his heart was buried in his beloved Africa; his body, in Westminster Abby.

Livingstone’s remembered because he was a big thinker … saw the big picture … served a big Christ.

In our own Presbyterian ranks, I think of men like William Sloan Coffee and Robert McAfee Brown … women like Margaret Towner, the first woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church, 1954.

All of them, big thinkers - that’s why they shaped the church so powerfully in their time, and for years to come.

They beckon us onward … the cloud of witnesses surround us … whispering to us, Finish our work … get busy … get to it … think big … finish our work.

Dear Christian Friends, let’s finish their work, and finish it well … big in our thoughts and sensibilities … big in our prayers and big in our faith … let us think far and beyond the boundaries of our lives and our church - think outside the box … daring and adventuresome like David Livingstone, William Sloan Coffin, Margaret Towner.

Big enough to bless the world!

Big enough to serve the Risen Christ!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11, 2012, "Will the Universe End?"

Psalm 8; Mark 13.5-36

Will the universe end?
Why even ask?
When some Christians ask … 
Smugness …
Bitterness …
Self-centered …
Some Christians want a small universe.
6 - 10 thousand yrs … 
Scientists are fools.
Evolution is a lie.
Pit Bible against Science.
Want to feel big! Important.
They and their world are the center ...

Psalm 8 … big universe.

Distance from the earth to the sun (93 million miles, or about 8 light minutes) is compressed to the thickness of a typical sheet of paper. On this scale, the nearest star (4.3 light years) is at a distance of 71 feet. 

Diameter of the Milky Way (100,000 light years) a stack 310 miles high.

Distance to the Andromeda galaxy (at 2 million light years one of the most distant objects visible to the naked eye) would require a stack of paper more than 6000 miles high! 

On this scale, the "edge" of the Universe, defined as the most distance known quasars some 10 billion light years hence, is not reached until the stack of paper is 31 million miles high.

Psalmist - thrilled with this!

Better question: How will it end?

The Resurrection of the dead …
New heaven, new earth ...

Best question: How do we live?

Jesus: don’t be deceived … don’t panic … be alert … be smart … be wise … be awake!

If I should die before I wake …
Wake me up before I die …

The point of the resurrection… this life is of great value … and this life will be raised from the dead. Death doesn’t win.

Life’s activities: painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving our neighbor - will last into God's future. 

It’s kingdom building.
(inspired by Tom Wright, Surprised by Joy)

Live LORD’s Prayer.

Psalm 119 - to learn and live the instruction of God - laws, ordinances, statutes, God’s promises.

Love God and neighbor …
Micah 6.8 - Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly …
Amos 5.24 - Let justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Do unto others …

Promises: I am with you always … I will never leave you or forsake you … I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be.

This life: God with us.
After death: with God.
Heidelberg Cat: 
Question 1.
What is thy only comfort in life and death?
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a)
am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

This world is our home …

Task: make it so for all God’s creatures.

That’s why we despise war.
Hate injustice.
Shun bigotry.
Reject ignorance and fear.

Strive for peace.
Build justice.
Welcome one another.

Seek knowledge … the light of the world … love - truth - the truth that sets us free, the truth of God’s mighty love for all the world - world without end!

About the end, don’t fret … you’ll make it just fine, because God really loves you … loves your family, your friends - the whole wide world.

As God determines:
The universe began well.
The universe will end well.

In the meantime, let us live well - for the glory of God!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

November 4, 2012, "Does God Have a Plan?"

Daniel 2.36-45; Ephesians 1.1-10
Does God Have a Plan?

November 4, 2012 - 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

New Series for November: End Times - suggested by Elder Dan Tilford

Does God have a plan?
Yes …
Ephesians 1.1-10
With the sound of a trumpet.
In the twinkling of an eye.
The Resurrection of the Dead!
The Book of Life opened.
A new heaven and a new earth.

Is there a timeline?

None that we can know.
Acts 1.7
Matthew 24.36
The End is not our business.

Yet many have tried to out-guess God.

Dispensationalists - timelines and charts.
A few verses:
Harold Camping - latest example - after repeated failures to predict the coming of Christ, Mr. Camping has now disavowed any further efforts.

Others persist: two Christian groups have set-up webcams in Jerusalem, 24/7, so we can watch the return of Jesus when he comes to the Mt of Olives.

Rumors of The End:
Jerusalem sacked and burned 586 BC.
Temple destroyed by Rome, AD 70
Rome sacked and burned by the Goths, 410
Year 1000
14th Century: 
Bubonic Plague
Terrible wars
Papacy divided - Rome, Avignon

Earthquake and war: Chicken Little runs around, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”

People look for the victory of good over evil … right over wrong.
People overwhelmed: Churchill quote:
In 1922, Churchill wrote: "What a disappointment the twentieth century has been. How terrible and melancholy is the long series of disastrous events, which have darkened its first twenty years. We have seen in every country a dissolution, a weakening of bonds, a challenge to those principles, a decay of faith, an abridgement of hope, on which the structure and ultimate existence of civilized society depends."

Islam has its own version.
So does Hinduism.
All religions have beginnings and endings … nothing wrong with that!

But folks who look for a timeline fool themselves, waste their time, disobey God! 

Glad to be a Presbyterian: The End belongs to God.
A sovereign, loving God.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The God and Father of Jesus.
The Alpha and the Omega.
The beginning and the end.
Who holds the whole world in his hands.

Jesus says: Go back to Jerusalem to receive power.

Don’t waste time waiting for me to come again.
Wait for the Spirit in Jerusalem.
Ten days.
And then, don’t look upward … look outward - look out for the world … look out for one another … look out for ways to improve life … bring justice, help the downfallen, end war, bring peace.

I am with anyway … always … the Holy Spirit I send to you - my Spirit, my love.

Where two or three are gathered in my name ...

Don’t fret about tomorrow.
What to wear or eat.
Or even death.
Or the End of the World.

Big things belong to God.
God takes care of them just fine.
God doesn’t need us poking around in the things that belong exclusively to God.

Our task: clear and concise.
Love one another.
Make disciples.

While we’re at at it:
Be of good cheer.
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
Live every day, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Does God have a plan? … 
It unfolds as it should.

We know all we need to live well for Christ … the rest belongs to God!

To God be the glory.
Amen and Amen!