“Stand Up and Raise Your Heads”
29 November 2015
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Happy New Year!
Of course I’m not speaking about the calendar year
Which will refresh in a mere 33 days.
I’m speaking of the Liturgical Year,
The Church’s Worship Year,
Which begins fresh and new on the first Sunday of Advent.
On this date,
The Gospel focus of worship changes.
We leave Mark behind.
Now we begin with the Gospel of Luke,
Which we will ride like a pony,
Interspersed with seasonings of the Gospel of John,
For the next 365 days.
Let’s start this New Year off right with the Gospel of Luke
By starting with the 21st chapter …
Right? Right. What genius thought of that?
Actually, allow me to begin in the first chapter
Where Luke, the Gospel author,
Tells his friend Theophilus the reason for
Dictating this orderly account of the life of Jesus.
This witness is
“so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”
Theophilus had been taught about the life of Jesus.
Now, he needed to know
The truth about Jesus the Christ,
The Son of God.
Truth is a common thread picked up from Christ the King last Sunday;
Where Pilate is interrogating Jesus about his kingdom.
What is truth? Pilate asked.
What is truth? First century disciples of Jesus asked,
Even as they eagerly awaited Jesus’ imminent return
On a cloud, from on high.
What is truth? Those same disciples asked
When Rome destroyed the Temple
And the few survivors were flung to the far corners of the Empire;
Thrown as if they were rag dolls with their hair on fire.
Where is Jesus?
He said he’d return.
What is the truth?
Thus, Luke authors his Gospel and his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles,
For the benefit of Christ followers,
So they’d know the truth about Jesus and when will he return.
In many ways,
Our religion is one of waiting,
… and how we spend our idle time while we wait.
I hate waiting, especially if it has no purpose.
Too long of a check-out line and not enough people working the registers?
It drives me nuts.
But if waiting has a purpose,
Waiting can become a spiritually refreshing posture of faith.
We wait for Christ to return.
In the mean time, what are we to do?
When we wait for Christ to come
We are to watch for signs,
Because when he comes
The day will catch us unexpectedly
like a trap.
Luke promises signs of persecution and destruction.
The first century disciples of Jesus would have nodded their heads with understanding.
Jerusalem had been destroyed.
Nero was crucifying our forefathers and
Lighting the corpses on fire to illuminate his path.
Those first century sisters and brothers of ours
Were living firsthand the promise of Luke.
In today’s Gospel,
Luke points us to cosmic powers and signs:
The sun, the moon, and the stars.
He cites the roaring of the sea and the waves.
The nations of the earth will be distressed.
People will be filled with foreboding.
Even the power of the heavens will be shaken.
These were signs of Christ’s imminence in that first century,
And every generation since.
What gives us the pride and hubris to believe
Our generation is suffering more,
Is facing greater persecution,
Is in greater peril,
Then our ancestors who were martyred in the Colosseum
Or during the Inquisition, the Napoleonic wars, in Nazi Germany, or occupied Syria?
The alarm has been raised with every prior generation,
Even as it is raised with us today.
What we are to take away from this posture of active watching
Is Luke’s promise that the powers of God
Far exceed the disturbed cosmic powers he is replacing.
All familiar powers of the universe will be shaken and lost.
Power that is familiar … think about it;
Power that is familiar will be lost.
Terror has the potential to grip even the strongest of Christian
When conventional powers are shaken
And when cosmic powers fail.
Be assured, Christ’s power exceeds
All that has come before.
Christ’s power and authority surpasses all cosmic powers,
And it certainly eclipses all mortal, earthly powers.
When he returns,
So, too, will order.
Order will return to all things.
And God’s kingdom shall reign forever.
Luke reports that
Jesus doesn’t tell us to run like hell when we witness these signs.
Jesus doesn’t tell us to be terrified.
He doesn’t tell us to lash out with kneejerk anger or vengeance.
Instead, Jesus tells us to stand up and raise our heads.
Let us temper our words and our behaviors.
I, too, feel the primal, emotional need to lash out to those
Who seek to destroy this world,
And to do it with unspeakable, brutal violence.
But let us discipline our fear.
Let our Christian training kick in.
Take a moment to catch our breath.
Return to the Gospel and be refreshed by its Good News!
Be filled with confidence!
This is God’s kingdom and Christ is returning.
Standing up and raising our heads means
We refuse to submit to fear.
We refuse to be a victim.
We refuse to allow ourselves
To be used as a proxy for
The devil’s message and motive of sin and temptation.
Standing up and lifting our heads means we bear testimony
To our loving God,
And the gift of his Son,
To redeem and save the world.
When we stand and lift our heads
Others will rise with us.
We stand in unity, encouraged by each other’s confidence.
Nothing builds confidence like rising as a group.
Let us stand up and raise our heads
Because we will not be shaken or lost.
God is present.
God is active.
God is in control.
With confidence we are able to proclaim to the world awash in sin
That Christ is returning.
The days we listened to false prophets are over.
The days we surrendered the return of Christ
To people hawking “rapture” theology to whoever would buy it, are over.
We can confidently turn our backs
On millennialists and numerologists
Who claim insider knowledge
On when and where the world is coming to an end.
We can stand together and lift our heads
And with faith,
In spite of the Devil and all his evil designs,
That Christ is coming again.
We stand confident in our faith
And in the promise of our judgment.
The Lord is our judgment;
It is on His terms
And in His time
That He pronounces judgment and executes justice
For each and every one of His children.
We are not called to judge anyone,
other than ourselves.
When it comes to each of us,
God is the final arbitrator.
God may use any of His children to execute justice,
We don’t know.
It isn’t up to us to decide
Who God chooses
To pass judgment and execute justice.
Neither do we know
God’s will for His chosen;
How judgment will be passed and how justice will be carried out.
We can volunteer.
Thankfully, many do.
But judgment and justice is the
White hot iron of Christianity that might be tempting to touch,
But is retained exclusively by God.
Pity the poor fool who doesn’t get the message
And attempts to take the law into vigilante hands.
Stand and look up.
Redemption is drawing near.
Stand up and raise your head with confidence
Knowing that God is in control.
Do so with anticipation of Christ’s coming again.
This is what we do during Advent.
This is who we are as Christians.