December 2 2018 “Come to Jesus – Bring your Fears” Luke 21.25-36 Pastor Jacqueline Hines
In the last few years, more than ever, people have asked me, “Pastor, do you think that we are living in the last days?” It surely feels like it. The terrible things described in the bible about the end of the world and Jesus’ return are happening now. Jesus said it himself in this morning’s text:
25“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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Now more than ever, for more reasons than ever, we are afraid for our lives. Now more than ever, I recall the saying of the elders as I was growing up, “You better keep your bags packed, because you never know when you will have to leave this world.” Now more than ever, when disastrous things happen to us, especially when bad things happen to good people, we remember the answer to those who say “Why me?” is “Why not me?” We remember that the bible says “The sun shines on the just as well as the unjust and rain pours out from the heavens upon the just and the unjust!”
One of the most memorable stories that teach that awful things can happen to anyone is the tragic story of the Jerusalem tower that fell and killed some Galileans. Jesus told that story and reminded his listeners in Luke 13 that just because a person suffers does not mean that they are a worse sinner than someone who is not suffering. That is worth repeating. Just because a person suffers does not mean that they are a worse sinner than someone who is not suffering the same way…Jesus went on to say that everybody needs to repent. Everybody needs to turn from wicked ways. Everybody does well to have holy intentions regardless of whether you are suffering or not suffering. In the end, everybody is accountable to an almighty, all-knowing, all–powerful God.
If we are going to fear anything in this world, we ought to fear falling into the hands of an angry God as Jonathan Edwards preached during the Great Awakening – a Christian revival that impacted Britain and the Colonies between 1730 and 1740. Folks were following a trend and wanted to know all about Hell and damnation. One source says that Jonathan Edwards preached this famous fire and brimstone sermon several times in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and even to a group of miserable pirates on July 10th 1726, before they were to be executed. He formed his sermon title in part from Hebrews 10 verse 31 that says: It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This time of revival was said to be a time when the Holy Spirit was going dramatic work. Historians say many things happened during those revival services. Sometimes people would cry so loudly and shout so happily or repentantly that Pastor Edwards could not even finish his sermons. He just went from person to person and prayed or encouraged. Some could be found in a corner in a trance-like state, fixated by God’s love.
Historians also note that if you did not come early, you were not going to get a seat in most churches. It was that exciting. Some of the drama that people were drawn to was definitely the work of the Holy Spirit, some was from people showing off due to ego and pride and some undoubtedly demonic. Whatever the case, the work of the Holy Spirit in Jonathan Edward’s life did not stop his church from arguing and splitting over who should receive Holy Communion. Jonathan was hard core on the issue. He believed the bible taught that only baptized, repentant believers could receive communion. He did not affirm like we do as Methodists, that Communion is an act of grace. Thus, all are welcome to the table and God is our judge. That God is in the heart and life of men and women boys and girls and longs for us to come to the table freely and respectfully.
We all are invited to come to Jesus and especially in these days we are to bring our fears, whether they be personal fears or private fears or public fears. We can bring them to the table, where the communion is holy, where God is waiting to heal and deliver and strengthen and restore and refresh, not just to juge.
Our United Methodist theology affirms six New Testament reasons we come to this table, this sacrament: Thanksgiving, fellowship, remembrance, sacrifice, work of the Holy Spirit, and eschatology which means a study of the end times.
The Greek word for sacrament is mysterion translated as mystery. [slide # 1 mysterion = mystery] A sacrament reflects a moment in the bible when Jesus is and was especially present in all his mysterious ways, in all the ways he comes to us now past our finding out. Now a priest or pastor or ordained elder are obligated to officiate in order for the sacrament to be legal.
Our Catholic sisters and brothers have 7 sacraments – baptism, communion, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and ordination. We Methodists only have two sacraments – communion and baptism.
There are many teachings and cultural nuances that shift and change through the years and within each culture, so much so that we have to be very careful. It is ok to be different. I grew up with anointing of oil. Every Sunday my pastor would invite people to come to the front pew and have special prayer and every Sunday he would make the sign of the cross on the forehead using anointing oil made of frankincense and olive oil. Oil in the bible is a symbol of God’s grace that is always with us, a reminder of God’s mercy that surrounds us, and a way to get close to God’s healing hand.
When I became ordained, I would anoint myself and my mother every week. Anointing with oil is not the experience of every Christian. Not long ago, someone asked me if I would offer anointing of oil when I do communion. A couple months ago, it was received comfortably in our 8 30 service. Ed helped me by laying hands on people and saying prayers for everyone and I anointed each worshipper with oil. On the other hand, I quickly learned that all those whom I visited at home had not experienced an anointing with oil. It was strange and awkward for some. Some even thought a pastor only does this for those who are getting ready to pass away, confusing anointing with oil with the Catholic teaching of last rites. We need to be very careful. We never want the mystery of the sacrament to become a mess.
While the Greek word for sacrament is mysterion, the Latin word for sacraments is sacramentum [ slide # 2 sacramentum = vow] which means a vow or promise. When we agree to come to the table we come in covenant, we come as children of the living God, loved and loving.
We can appreciate our Episcopalian and Catholic and other sisters and brothers who often use the word Eucharist when they talk about Holy Communion. Eucharist is from the Greek word eukharistia which means thanksgiving. [slide # 3 eukharistia = thanksgiving] We come to this table for thanksgiving – to give God thanks, for giving thanks heals us and sanctifies us, setting us apart for God’s special purpose. We come to this table for fellowship because scriptures tell us it is good for us to be together in unity and harmony and minister to one another.
We sometimes wonder if we Methodists eat too much. Gathering around food is a universal human desire for every culture and every age. The English words companion and company according to the late Laurence Stookey author of Eucharist - Christ’s Feast with the Church are both formed from two Latin roots meaning “those who share bread” with each other.
From the Garden of Eden and its freedom to eat of everything except the forbidden fruit, to the feeding of the 5,000 to the wine at the wedding of Cana, to the many Passover Feasts, including the last supper, there is no shortage of examples of gathering together and being spiritually fed and emotionally nurtured.
We gather to give thanks, to fellowship and to remember who Jesus is – the one who came bringing the good news of God’s love, even though he knew some did not want to hear it and it would cost him his life.
The scriptures tell us that not everyone wants good news and that we may be punished and persecuted just for being a Christian, just for bringing another viewpoint than others. We see persecution around the world. I read Charles Stanley’s story of the day a man came into his service to kill him and recently I heard of John Hagee being shot at five or six times because someone wanted to kill him.
We come to this table to give thanks, to fellowship, to remember, to give – offering ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. We come to this table to plug into the work of the Holy Spirit. We labor in prayer, we sing praises knowing that God inhabits the praises of God’s people, we come seeking the God the father, son and Holy Spirit diligently, we come to serve faithfully, and we come to obey quickly.
We come to the table with our eschatological views in sight - that is our views of the end times. Eschatos is the Greek word for last. Eschatology is the study of the last days, the end of time. [slide # 4 eschatos = last] A few years ago we did a bible study with two books. One was called Divine Revelation of Heaven. The other was called Divine Revelation of Hell. Church history often focuses on the punishment and judgment that the bible talks about regarding Hell. That is real, but the grace and mercy and comfort are just as real. Heaven is for real.
We try to wrap our minds around the ideas of Heaven and Hell and life eternal. We can trust God’s word that there will come a day like no other.
Lately, we have seen many days that are like none that we have seen before. All the tsunamis, rain, and flooding we have heard about around the world makes the story of Noah seem closer to home. The fires that have come suddenly bring Hell to our mind more often. One man said he was put on alert that fire was near. Three minutes later he said he was running for his life. Eighty eight people died trying to escape, 11,000 homes were destroyed, a whole town burnt to the ground. The distress of nations aiming nuclear weapons at each other and the incessant newsfeed of foreign and domestic terrorism, caravans and cataclysmic # movements has turned the whole world upside down.
Nothing in this world is as unbelievable as it may have been in the past, not even the thought that Jesus will return in a cloud of glory. As verse 27 tells us -
27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man [another name for Jesus] coming in a cloud’ [slide # 5 …coming in a cloud] with power and great glory.
God’s word reminds us that so much of what we know in life is unfathomable and inconceivable. Life is a mystery. Death is a mystery. Sleep is a mystery. Dreaming is even more of a mystery. Some have visions and premonitions that warn or predict things that touch on the matters of the heart. We have moments that we call miracles when we are saved or provided for in ways that are unusual or against the odds. Have you ever experienced an out of the body experience, or Déjà vu, that feeling that we have been somewhere or done something before, but you know it couldn’t be true? There are so many inexplicable situations in this life, Jesus return is one more to add to the list.
Jesus closes his conversation with these words in verse 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength [slide #6 pray for strength] to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
So it is for us to meet Jesus at the table, to bring all our fears and to pray for strength. Strength to give thanks, to fellowship, to remember that Jesus is love, to understand he sacrificed his life and calls us into a covenantal promise, to move when the Spirit says move and to be alert to the day finally coming that will be a day like none other. Amen. [slide # 6 prepare your heart]