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Saturday, December 26, 2015

He Did It God's Way

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on December 27, 2015.  The Bible verses used are John 1:6-8, 19-34.

            Well, Christmas Day has come and gone.  We had our Christmas Eve service, of course.  We’ve opened the presents and sung the carols.  We’ve had our holiday meals.  Oh, we still have the trees and the decorations up.  Some of us still have family here.  Some of us still have leftovers, too. 
For the most part, though, there’s a real sense in which we’re on the downside of Christmas.  We’ll have one more celebration at New Year’s, and then it will be back to work, back to school, back to our regular routine.  Back to our regular church services, too, with our regular songs and regular sermons, rather than songs and sermons that focus on the Christmas story.
Before we leave the Christmas story, though, we need to talk about someone who’s really kind of the forgotten man of the Christmas story.  He’s kind of the forgotten man of the gospels, too.  His name is John the Baptist.
Some of you have heard of him.  Some of you know he’s the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  Some of you even know that he was related to Jesus, that his mother Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were relatives.  But we don’t talk about John the Baptist very much or even think about him very much.
That’s not the fault of the gospel writers.  They all mention him.  Interestingly, the gospel of John, which we just read, does not specifically say that John baptized Jesus, although it implies that it happened.  Luke is the only one to give us John the Baptist’s birth story.  The others just talk about John’s ministry.
And it was a pretty important ministry.  John is the one who was given the responsibility of preparing the way for Jesus Christ.
            John was only about six months older than Jesus.  That’s one of those things I know, but I just can’t ever get through my head.  It’s like how I know where Colorado is, but I always think of it as being farther north, about where Wyoming is.  Do you ever have stuff like that?  I know that John the Baptist was only about six months older than Jesus, but I always think of him as a lot older than that for some reason.
            People think that John started his ministry about a year before Jesus did.  And we can tell that he was pretty successful.  Mark tells us that the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.  Even if we allow that this could be a generalization, there were still obviously a lot of people coming out to see him.  They were confessing their sins and John was baptizing them in the Jordan River.
            In other words, John the Baptist was a pretty powerful religious figure.  People were coming to him, not just to be baptized, but to find out how God thought they should live.  He attracted a lot of attention.  And some of that attention was from the Jewish religious leaders.
            The way John describes it, those religious leaders were not exactly hostile to John, but they were not necessarily on his side, either.  Mostly, they wanted to know who he was and what he thought he was doing.  And as I look at John’s answers to their questions, I’m struck by how incredibly humble his answers were.
            They wanted to know if John was the Messiah, and of course he said no.  They wanted to know if he was Elijah or one of the other great prophets.  He said no again.  Finally, they asked, well then, who are you?  And John said, all I am is the voice of one calling in the wilderness.  “Make straight the way for the Lord.”  There’s someone coming after me who’s so great that I’m not even worthy to untie his sandals.
            That’s a pretty awesome statement, you know?  As we said, John was pretty great in his day.  He was a Really Important Person.  He headed a powerful ministry.  All these people were coming out to see him and be baptized by him.
            It seems like it would’ve been very easy for John to let that go to his head.  After all, look at all the religious leaders in our own time who’ve gotten involved in scandals.  One of the reasons that’s happened is because of arrogance.  When you have people around you telling you how great you are all the time, it’s pretty tempting to believe it.  And when we believe we’re greater than we are, it’s easy to start thinking we can do whatever we want, that the rules that apply to other people don’t apply to us because of our greatness.  We’ve seen it happen time and time again.
            And it would’ve been easy for John to let it happen to him, too.  It had to be tempting sometimes.  After all, John was human.  He was living out in the wilderness.  He was wearing clothes made out of camel’s hair.  He was eating locusts.  When the crowds grew, when his fame spread, it seems like it had to have crossed his mind that he did not have to keep living that way.  There’d be people who’d help him move up in life.  There must’ve been people who’d have helped him get a better place to live, some nicer clothes, some better food.  It must’ve been tempting for John to use his power and his position to move up in the world.
            But he never did.  He stayed humble.  In fact, he stayed so humble that he said he was not even good enough to until Jesus’ sandals.
            Did you ever really think about that statement?  How low on the social scale would you have to be for it to be your job to until somebody’s shoes for them?  It’s pretty much the ultimate servant thing, right?  Someone’s sitting or standing there and they want their shoes untied.  And so they say “Hey, you.  Yeah, you, the nobody over there.  Come over here and untie my shoes for me.”
            And you go over there, and you have to get down on your knees to be able to do it.  Basically, you have to bow down in front someone to untie their shoes.  And John the Baptist, the great John the Baptist, is saying he’s not even worthy to do that for Jesus.  He’s not even worthy to get down on his knees in front of Jesus, to bow down in front of him, and untie his shoes for him.
            And after Jesus came, John kept his humility.  In the third chapter of John, we’re told that Jesus and his disciples started baptizing people, and some people told John the Baptist about it, telling him Jesus was stealing his crowds.  And John said, that’s okay.  It’s how it’s supposed to be.  I said all along, I was just the one getting things ready for the Savior.  Now that he’s here, John said, “He must become greater, and I must become less.”
            Last fall we did a sermon series on the minor prophets.  One of the things that struck me, as we were doing that sermon series, is the number of times God was punishing people for their arrogance.  They arrogantly decided they since they were God’s chosen people, they did not have to do anything.  They thought it did not matter whether they did what God wanted them to do.  They thought God owed it to them to help them and to protect them, no matter what they did or did not do.  They thought they were home free.
            One of the sins that God seems to really dislike is the sin of arrogance.  And we can see why.  Arrogance leads us into making all kinds of mistakes and to act in all kinds of unloving ways.  And a lot of times we don’t mean to.  Sometimes our arrogance leads us to do things wrong with the best of intentions.  Our arrogance can lead us to believe that our way is the right way, and in fact is the only way.  Our arrogance can lead us to get upset with people who disagree with us.  Our arrogance can lead us to judge people who do things differently.  Our arrogance can also lead us to try too hard, to try to do more than we should, to try to make things happen instead of letting things happen in God’s way and in God’s time.  Our arrogance can lead us to start relying on ourselves instead of relying on God.  Our arrogance leads us to think everything depends on us when in fact everything depends on God.  And of course, there are a lot of other ways our arrogance can get us into trouble, too.
            And so, sometimes, we need to take a step back and think of John the Baptist.  He was a man who did exactly what God wanted him to do.  He did not do any less than God wanted him to do, but he did not do any more, either.  He made no claims to his own greatness.  In fact, he specifically did not claim any greatness to himself.  He simply stayed faithful to God and did what God wanted him to do.  And when he had done what God wanted him to do, he was willing to step back, to become less, so that Jesus could take center stage instead.
            And so, as we prepare to enter into a new year, let’s remember the example of John the Baptist.  Let’s try to do exactly what God wants us to do, no more and no less.  And let’s stay humble, remembering that all God asks us to do is stay faithful.  If we do that, God will take care of the rest.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

We've Got Connections

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, December 20, 2015. The Bible verses used are Luke 2:1-21. 
What we read for today in Luke is what we think of when we think about the Christmas story.  It’s the bit Linus reads in the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  It’s Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in the stable with the shepherds around.  This is what we want to hear on the Sunday before Christmas.  After all, who does not love hearing a story about a baby?
And it is an amazing story, really.  The divine Son of God, taking human form, coming to earth to live among us.  Living as a human being, feeling all the things we feel, enjoying all the things we enjoy, suffering through all the things we suffer through.  Limited by all the limitations we have.
You know, at Christmas, we talk all the time about Mary and the faith she had and all the suffering she endured.  And that’s appropriate, because she did have tremendous faith and she did have to endure a lot of suffering.  And we talk about Joseph, and the faith he had, and all the things he had to do, taking care of his family and so forth.  And that’s appropriate too, because Joseph did have tremendous faith and he did have to do a lot of things to take care of his family.
But we never talk about the sacrifice Jesus made and the suffering he endured.  I mean, we talk about that during Lent.  We talk about how Jesus was arrested and beaten and tortured and ultimately killed on a cross.  But we don’t talk about the sacrifice Jesus made just by coming to earth in the first place.  In fact, we usually don’t think about Jesus’ birth that way at all.
But we should.  After all, we’re told that Jesus, the divine Son of God, was with God the Father from the beginning.  Remember what we read in John:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus, the Word, was with God the Father from the very beginning.  And Jesus had been with God all through everything that had happened since, everything that had happened up until this point in history.
And now, Jesus was separated from God, just like we are.  I mean, yes, Jesus had divine powers, power that you and I do not have.  But I have to think he could not possibly feel the sort of connection to God the Father that he had in heaven.  He had that same separation from God that we have.  He could pray, of course, just like we all can, and he could go meditate and try to feel close to God, just as we all can.  And there were times, such as at the transfiguration, when he was briefly given some of that connection back.  But for the most part, when he was on earth, it looks like Jesus was separated from God just like you and I are.
I wonder when Jesus really felt that.  I assume he knew it was going to happen, but when did he really start to feel it?  Did he not feel it until he was an adult, and fully realized who he was?  Did he feel it already when he was young, during that episode when he was twelve and went off by himself, away from his parents, to go and visit with the rabbis?  Or did he already feel it in this scene, as a baby, when he was lying in the manger with Joseph and Mary beside him?
Whenever it was, it had to be really hard for him.  He knew it was going to happen, or at least I would think he did.  I’d think Jesus would have to have known, when he agreed to come to earth and live among us, that he would not have that same connection to God the Father that he had while he was in heaven.  But did he really understand what that was going to feel like?  Did he know how hard it was going to be to lose that connection with God, even if it was only going to be for those years on earth?
It had to be a hard thing for Jesus.  It was a tremendous sacrifice Jesus made.  He voluntarily gave up that connection he had with God.  And he did it for us.  Jesus gave us an amazing gift when he did that.
You know, when you think about it, Jesus really gave up his life twice for us.  We know about how Jesus gave up his earthly life for us when he died on the cross.  But Jesus also gave up his heavenly life for us when he was born to Joseph and Mary in the stable.
Jesus gave up his earthly life on the cross to save us from the consequences of our sins.  He took the punishment that should have gone to us, so that if we simply believe in him, we will go to heaven.  And that’s an incredibly awesome thing.
But Jesus gave up his heavenly life to do something just as important.  Jesus gave up his heavenly life to come here to earth and live among us.  Jesus gave up his heavenly life so we could know God better and understand God better.  Jesus gave up his heavenly life so that we could see who God is and how God wants us to live.
In other words, Jesus gave up his connection to God the Father so that you and I could have a connection to God.  Before Jesus came, people did not know God, not in the way you and I can.  They did not have a personal relationship with God.  Oh, maybe a few of them did, the great prophets like Moses and Joshua and people like that, but not everyday people.  Not people like you and me.  There was no thought that common people could just talk to God.  Why would God listen to you?  Why would God listen to me?  If you wanted to talk to God about something, you went and talked to the priest.  You asked him to pray for you, and they you waited and eventually asked the priest for God’s answer.  The priest might be able to talk to God, especially if he was a high priest, but you and me?  No way.
And Jesus changed all that.  Jesus came and showed us, individuals, common people like you and me.  He showed us how to talk to God.  He showed us how to listen to God.  He showed us that we did not need to go through a high priest to talk to God, we could do it ourselves.  Everyone—you, me, and everyone else you can think of, from the highest of the high to the lowers of the low—can have a personal relationship, a personal connection, to God.  Jesus gave up his connection to God so that you and I could have a connection with God.
Did Mary and Joseph understand that, do you suppose?  Probably not.  Not totally, anyway.  They probably understood some.  They knew this was a special child.  The angel had told them that he was the divine Son of God who would save people from their sins.  But did they really appreciate how that was going to work or exactly what it meant?  We don’t understand it that well now.  Could they really have understood it then?
But you know who maybe did understand it?  The shepherds.  You know, as you look at this story, the shepherds really don’t seem to have that much of anything to do with it.  They did not know Joseph or Mary.  They were nobody important or special.  They were just ordinary people, people like you and me.  They were just getting by in life, doing their jobs, doing what they had to do.  In George Carlin’s phrase, they were doing just enough work to not get fired and getting paid just enough not to quit.
And then, all of a sudden, an angel appears to them.  And then a whole company of angels.  And they tell these shepherds about this incredible thing that’s happened.  And they tell them to go see the baby.
And they do.  And they know.  They don’t know everything.  They probably don’t understand what Jesus had to give up in order to be born as a human being.  But they know something is different.  They know they have a connection to God they’ve never had before.  And they know that, somehow, this baby caused that.  They know that somehow, in some way, the birth of this baby means that they are connected to God in a way they never were before.
And they know that they’re never going to lose that connection.  They know that connection they have to God will always be there.  And so they go away, happier than they’ve ever been in their lives, so happy that they cannot help but tell everyone they meet about this incredible thing that’s happened, this incredible thing that they’ve not only seen but that they’ve felt in their hearts.
We have that same connection to God that the shepherds had.  We have it through Jesus Christ.  And that connection will always be there for us, too.  We can give it up.  We can let it go.  But God will never take it away.  Any time we choose to turn back to God, that connection to God will always be there for us.
Jesus gave up his life in heaven to give us life on earth.  And Jesus gave up his life on earth to give us life in heaven.  It’s an incredible gift.  It’s the gift of Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Defending Christmas

This blog post is a tradition, having appeared every year at about this time since 2009 at my prior blog.

            We are just a week away from Christmas Day.  Among other things, that means it’s the time of year for pastors to complain about the secularization of Christmas.

            There are secular aspects to Christmas, of course.  There always have been. Some of them are fine.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with giving and receiving presents, as long as you don’t go overboard about it.  There’s nothing wrong with decorating trees and putting up Christmas lights.  In fact, I enjoy looking at them.   

The reason we celebrate Christmas on December 25 is not because Jesus was actually born on that date.  We don’t know the actual day on which Jesus was born, although there are various theories.  Some sources say the reason we celebrate Christmas on December 25 is that it was a time when there were already secular celebrations going on, centering on the winter solstice.  It might be more accurate, then, to say that followers of Jesus have been trying to Christianize a secular holiday, rather than the other way around.

            Therefore, I really don’t think that, as Christians, we need to feel like we have to defend Jesus in some sort of war on Christmas.  In fact, the idea of Christians fighting a war over the birth of the Prince of Peace seems like a contradiction in terms.  All we need to do, as Christians, is make clear what it is that we are celebrating, regardless of what anyone else is doing.

            Let others wish us a “happy holiday”; we can still wish them a merry Christmas.  If some don’t want a nativity scene at the courthouse, we can still put one in our front yard.  More than three-fourths of Americans claim to be Christians.  If three-fourths of the houses in this country had nativity scenes in their yards, there’d be no need for one on public property.  In fact, we’d probably make more of an impact that way.

            We don’t need to get mad at people who want to secularize Christmas.  What we need to do is calmly, persistently, and lovingly make sure people know that, as Christians, we are celebrating the birth of Christ.  Then, in that same way, we need to make sure people know who Jesus is, why we worship him, and why others should worship him, too.  If we do that, our Lord and Savior will do the rest.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Worth the Wait

This is the message given in the Agar United Methodist church Sunday, December 13, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Mark 1:1-8.

How many of you are really anxious for Christmas to come?
We all have different times when we start really getting into Christmas, when we feel like we just cannot wait for it to come.  Some people started way back in October, or as soon as Halloween is over.  For some people, it’s when the Hallmark Channel starts showing Christmas movies.  For others, it’s is the first Sunday of Advent, when the church starts focusing on preparing for Christmas.  Or maybe it’s when we decorate the sanctuary, or maybe when you decorate your house for Christmas.  For me, when I start hearing Christmas music on the radio is when I really start getting into Christmas.
           It can be hard to wait for Christmas.  It’s hard for me sometimes, too.  It was especially hard for me when I was a kid.  See, my birthday is December twenty-second, so not only was I waiting for Christmas, I was waiting for my birthday, too.  And it was hard.  I had all this stuff I wanted, stuff I was waiting for and hoping for, stuff I could not get for myself, but I could not find out yet whether I was going to get it.  I wanted the time to pass quickly and for the big day to come, but time just kept moving one day at a time.  All I could do was wait.    
But then, finally, the big day would come, and sometimes I would get exactly what I wanted.  And when I did, it was always worth the wait.  That’s the thing—anything that’s really good is worth waiting for.
Now, put that in the context of the first Christmas.  In a sense, though, the whole world was waiting for it.  The world had been waiting, really since the first humans walked the earth.  You probably remember the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent.  That’s the story of sin entering the world.
As soon as sin entered the world, humans became separated from God.  We tried to find our way back.  That’s what all that Old Testament law was about.  The theory was that if we could just follow all the rules, if we could just do everything the way we’re supposed to, then we’d be the people we were supposed to be, God would be happy with us, and we’d feel close to God again.
Maybe that would’ve worked.  We’ll never know, because we humans never could follow all the rules.  We could never do everything the way we’re supposed to.  The thing is, we were trying to do something by ourselves that we cannot do by ourselves.  We were trying to get back to God by our own abilities, and by our own merits, and that simply was not possible.  It was not possible because we were and are sinful people, and sinful people cannot follow all the rules perfectly and do everything we’re supposed to do, no matter how hard we try.
Eventually, people figured that out.  They knew they could not get back to God by themselves.  They knew they needed God to bring them back.  In other words, they knew they needed a Messiah.  They knew they needed a Savior.
They knew they needed a Savior, but they had no way to get one.  There was no way they could bring a Savior about.  They knew, from scripture, that they’d been promised one, but there was no way they could cause the Savior to come.  They wanted the time to pass quickly and for the Savior to come now, but time just kept moving one day at a time.  All they could do was wait.
And so, they waited.  Day after day.  Week after week.  Month after month.  Year after year.  Eventually, it became decade after decade, even century after century.  They waited, and they hoped, and they prayed.  And nothing happened.  They waited some more, and they hoped some more, and they prayed some more.  And nothing continued to happen.          
Eventually, some of them got tired of waiting.  Some of them got so desperate that they started following false Saviors, false Messiahs.  Some of them got discouraged.  They decided their hopes were worthless, that there was no point in praying.  Either God did not hear their prayers and was not going to answer, or God did not exist at all.  And so, they quit waiting.  They gave up.
And so, when the Savior finally came, they missed it.  Think about that.  Can you imagine what that would be like?  They’d waited all that time, all those years, but they just could not wait long enough.  And then, what they’d waited for and hoped for and prayed for finally happened, and they missed it.  They saw it, maybe, but they could not recognize it for what it was.  As John says, “the world did not recognize him.”  That’s an incredibly sad thing, when you think about it.         
We wonder, sometimes, why God waited so long.  We don’t know, of course.  We never will know.  We assume there was a reason.  There are theories people have, but we’ll only know when we get to heaven and can ask.  And at that point, it may not matter to us any more.
What we do know is that, for those who did not give up, for those who did not get tired of waiting, for those who kept waiting, and kept hoping, and kept praying, it was all worth it.  It was worth the wait.  Because, eventually, the Savior came.  The Savior came, and they no longer had to be separated from God.  They could come back to God through their belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior.          
So can we.  We don’t have to miss out.  We still wait for Christmas, but we don’t have to wait the way they did thousands of years ago.  We don’t have to wait for something to happen.  We just wait to celebrate the anniversary of something that’s already happened.
We don’t have to wait for the Savior to come.  The Savior has already come.  We’re not waiting for the first Christmas.  We can have Christmas any day of the year.  Any time we make a decision for Christ, any time we dedicate our lives to following Jesus, it can be Christmas Day for us.  And any time we renew our decision for Christ, any time we re-dedicate ourselves to following Jesus, it can be Christmas Day for us, too.  We don’t have to wait.  We can do that any time.  We can do it now, today.          
You know, when I was a kid, Mom and Dad would try to get me what I wanted.  They did not always succeed.  Sometimes what I wanted was not practical or was not good for me.  Sometimes they made mistakes because they’re human.  But they tried.  God, though, did not need to try.  God knew exactly what we wanted and what we needed.  God knew the one thing we could not get for ourselves.  And that’s what God gave us:  a Savior.
When we’re kids, and we get just what we want for Christmas, we don’t hesitate, do we?  We tear off the paper, we see what it is, our eyes get big, we get a big smile on our face, and we take it out of the package as fast as we can.  We cannot wait to start enjoying the incredible gift we’ve been given.
And yet, too many times, we don’t do that with the most incredible gift of all, the gift of salvation.  God has given us this incredible gift, but so often, just like people did two thousand years ago, we’re not sure about it.  We see it, but we don’t always recognize it for what it is.  We wait, as if we’re deciding whether to accept it.  And so, sometimes, we miss out.
So, sometimes, it’s God’s turn to wait.  We’re no longer waiting for the Savior to come to us.  Instead, now the Savior is waiting for us to come to him.
God will never get tired of waiting.  God will never give up on us.  God will never quit on us.  God does not want to wait, of course.  God wishes we would make the decision now, today, to dedicate or re-dedicate our lives to God.  But God is willing to wait.  God is willing to wait because, to God, you and I are worth waiting for.
Really, that’s the most amazing thing of all.  We understand why it’s important for us to be close to God.  What’s hard to understand is why it seems to be important for God to be close to us.  We understand why it’s worth waiting for God.  What’s hard to understand is why God would decide it’s worth waiting for us.
Yet, God does that.  For reasons that we cannot understand, reasons that don’t really make any sense to us, God does want to be close to us.  God does think that you and I, the sinful people that we still are, are worth waiting for.
When you think about how strong and powerful God is, and how small and weak we are in comparison, there really can be only one reason for that.  God loves us.  We’re God’s children, and God loves us, and God thinks we’re worth waiting for.
When you think about it, that’s the real message of Christmas.  God gave us the greatest Christmas gift of all.  God gave us just what we’d been waiting for:  a Savior.  It was exactly what we wanted and exactly what we needed.
The world waited for a Savior for thousands of years, but we don’t have to wait any longer.  Let’s not make God wait any longer, either.  Let’s make the decision today to dedicate or re-dedicate ourselves to God.  Let’s accept the incredible gift of the Savior that God has given us.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Faith Over Feelings

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, December 6, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 1:28-35.

            In this season of Advent leading to Christmas, we’re looking at how each of the gospels treated the story of the coming of Jesus.  Today we look at the gospel of Matthew.
            What we read today is not the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.  Matthew starts by tracing Jesus’ earthly lineage back from Abraham through David and then on up to Joseph, who Jesus’ earthly father.  It was important for Matthew to do that because the prophecy had been that the Messiah, the Savior, would be of the line of King David.  After he does that, Matthew goes on to tell us Jesus’ birth story.
            But this is not the birth story we hear the most.  This is not the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and the trip to Bethlehem and “No room at the inn” and the stable and all that.  Matthew’s emphasis is on Joseph, and he tells the story very quickly and efficiently.  Mary and Joseph are going to be married, but are not married yet.  Mary is pregnant.  Joseph knows the child cannot be his, but he does not want to publicly disgrace Mary, so he plans to end things quietly.  Then an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to go ahead with the marriage because the child is from the Holy Spirit and will save the people from their sins.  Joseph wakes up and does what the angel told him to do.
            And that’s it.  It’s no wonder this is not the version of the Christmas story we usually hear.  There’s no drama in it.  There’s no emotion.  There’s no Hallmark Channel warmth or tears or anything.  It’s just the facts.  It’s not easy to make the Christmas story boring, but Matthew just about manages it.  Why would Matthew choose to tell the story this way?
            I think part of the reason has to do with the way people looked at faith back then.  We’ve talked about this before, but in Old Testament Jewish society, emotions were not the main focus of faith.  Instead, the emphasis was on obedience.  It was on doing your duty to God.  You did what God wanted you to do because it was God who wanted you to do it.  God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-wise.  You are not.  So, if God said to do something, you were supposed to do it.  Period.
            And that seems to be the perspective Joseph had on this whole thing.  When he found out that Mary was pregnant, Joseph did what he thought God would want him to do.  He did not make a public scene.  He did not treat Mary with contempt or scorn.  Given the situation, and given what he knew about that situation, he was treating Mary kindly.
            We don’t know what the conversation was like when Mary told Joseph she was going to have a baby.  You’d think Mary would’ve told him the whole story about the angel appearing and how this was an act of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t know.  Did she not tell Joseph, thinking there was no way he’d believe her and maybe get even get angry with her for lying?  Or did she tell Joseph and he did not believe her, and after all who could blame him if he did not?  Would you believe it, in Joseph’s situation?  I don’t imagine I would. 
Joseph was simply trying to handle the situation the way he thought God would want him to handle it.  And when he found out the truth, he again tried to handle the situation the way God wanted him to, doing what the angel said.  What Joseph thought about what was going on, how he felt about it, none of that is mentioned because, to Matthew, none of that was important.  What was important was that Joseph obeyed God.  Joseph did his duty to God.
As I said, that’s kind of an Old Testament idea.  It kind of fell out of fashion later on.  It certainly has fallen out of fashion now.  Our life today is all about feelings.  It’s all about emotions.  Doing something we don’t want to do, because it’s our duty to do it, is not something we talk about very much.  We’re told we should follow our hearts.  We should do what makes us happy, not do things just because it’s our duty to do them.
            And don’t get me wrong, feelings and emotions are important.  When we talk about God’s love for us, that’s a feeling.  That’s an emotion.  And when we talk about loving God and loving others, we’re talking about feelings and emotions, too.  And I’m not suggesting that we should do things that will make us unhappy all our lives.
            But the thing is that our hearts are not always reliable guides.  Have you noticed that?  Have you ever followed your heart and discovered it led you down a path that was not all that great?  I suspect some of us have.  In fact, sometimes following our heart can take us to a place that it’s not good for us to go at all.  Sometimes, following our heart and doing what we thought would make us happy gets us into all kinds of trouble.  I think a lot of us, if we’re honest about it, can think of times when that’s happened.
            Being happy is important, no question about it.  But being happy is not the ultimate goal in life, at least not for a Christian.  For a Christian, the ultimate goal in life is to do God’s will.  The ultimate goal in life is to trust God and be faithful to God.  Now, I believe that doing God’s will and trusting God and being faithful to God will make us happy.  But even if it may not, it’s still what, as Christians, we’re supposed to do.
            Did taking Mary as his wife in this situation make Joseph happy?  Did he follow his heart when he did that?  We don’t know.  We’d like to think so, of course, and we can make an argument that it did, but we really don’t know.  We’re not told how Joseph felt.  Later on, we’re told that Joseph had to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for a while to get away from King Herod’s army.  Did that make Joseph happy?  Did Joseph follow his heart when he did that?  Probably not.  And of course, here was Joseph, trying to take care of a wife and raise a son that was not actually his.  Did that make him happy?  Was he following his heart then?  Again, we’d like to think so, but we really don’t know.  We’re not told anything, anywhere in the Bible, about how Joseph felt about any of this.  All we’re told is that he did what the angel told him to do.  All we’re told is that he did God’s will.  All we’re told is that he had faith and was obedient to God.
            And maybe that’s enough, you know?  Maybe that’s enough.  I’m not saying that we should shut our brains off and just follow things blindly.  God gave us brains and God expects us to use them.  I’m not saying we should ignore our feelings, either—our feelings came from God, too.  And it’s certainly all right to want to be happy—I don’t know anyone who does not want to be happy.
            But in the end, there are always going to be things we don’t understand, no matter how hard we try.  And there are always going to be times when our feelings are confused or lead us in the wrong direction.  And there are times when the things that make us happy in the short term will wind up being the exact wrong thing for us to do in the long term.
            And so, maybe just doing God’s will, just having faith and trusting God and being obedient to God, is enough.  Doing the will of God will never lead us in the wrong direction.  Trusting God will keep us headed in the right direction even when we don’t understand.  Being faithful to God may or may not make us happy in the short term, but being faithful to God will always be the right thing for us to do in the long term.
            I’m sure Joseph did not understand what was going on here, not really.  I would think his feelings must have been very confused.  And I would think that this whole situation did not make him all that happy.  It certainly was not the way he wanted his married life to start out.  But none of that mattered.  He put all of that aside.  He knew what God wanted him to do.  And he did it, no matter what his feelings or emotions might have been.  We don’t know whether Joseph followed his heart.  We know that he did his duty.  Joseph did his duty to God.
            And it was enough.  It was enough for Matthew, when he wrote his gospel.  And it was enough for God.
            And it’s enough for us, too.  Trusting God, being obedient to God, being faithful to God, and doing our duty to God are enough for us.  We may or may not be following our hearts when we do that.  But we will be following God’s heart.  And God’s heart is always reliable.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Last Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving.  And I hope you truly do have a lot to be thankful for.  I know, though, that sometimes it’s hard to feel that way.  Life throws a lot of stuff at us sometimes.  When that happens, it can be really hard to feel thankful.

We know we should, of course.  We know that, as the Apostle Paul says, we should be thankful in all circumstances.  But in some circumstances, it’s pretty hard.  We don’t feel thankful, even though we know we should.  And knowing we should sometimes makes things worse, because then we feel guilty about how we don’t feel thankful, and so we pile guilt on everything else we’re feeling.

It’s not easy sometimes.  It’s pretty hard to force ourselves to feel something we do not feel.  In fact, it may be impossible.  So what do we do?

First, I think, we have to make a decision.  Do I really want to find a reason to be thankful?  Because sometimes we don’t.  We may know we should try to be thankful, but sometimes we’re just not ready to do that yet.  And that’s okay, for a while.  If it lasts too long, then we may need to talk to someone, to get some help.  But depending on the circumstances, it can be okay if, for a while, we’re just not ready to start feeling thankful yet.

But let’s say we do want to find a reason.  Let’s say we’re tired of letting the circumstances get the better of us.  What do we do then?  That’s where we need to do two things.  We need to think, and we need to pray.  Not necessarily in that order.  In fact, I’d suggest doing both at once.

There is almost always something to be thankful for if we really think about it.  Maybe we’re thankful that things are not worse than they are.  Maybe we’re thankful for someone who’s been there for us and tried to help us through our troubles.  Maybe we’re thankful for a kind word.  Maybe we’re just thankful that God is still there with us.  What we’re thankful for will depend on what’s going on, but we can almost always find something if we truly think about it and look for it.  And prayer helps with that, because prayer will focus our attention on God and God will focus our attention on what we might actually find to be thankful for.

So my hope and prayer is that you will find something to be thankful for.  Not just at Thanksgiving, but every day.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

You Light Up My Life

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 29, 2015.  The Bible verses used are John 1:1-18.

            Those of you who read the newsletter may remember that I had planned to do a Christmas sermon series based on some of the minor characters in the Christmas story.  As I’ve thought about it, though, it seems like that might be a better thing to do in the context of the Christmas Eve service.  So instead, we’re going to take a different tack.  What we’re going to do is look at how the different gospels treated the coming of Jesus.  And we’re going to start with the gospel of John.  And when we look at how John deals with this, and really think about what John says, I think it’s some of the most incredible stuff there could possibly be.
            First, as you noticed from what we read, John does not deal with Jesus in the context of the birth story.  John starts before the birth of Jesus.  In fact, John starts at the very beginning of time.  John refers to Jesus as “the Word” and tells us that “the Word” was with God from the beginning.  In fact, “The Word” was God, from the beginning.
            But why does John refer to Jesus that way?  Why does John call Jesus “the Word”?  I mean, we know the Bible is the word of God, but why is Jesus “the Word”?  What does that mean, to say Jesus is “the Word”?
            Well, if you look in the Old Testament, that phrase “the word of God” shows up a lot.  When you look at the books of prophecy, many of which we just looked at in our sermon series on the Minor Prophets, it’s always described as “the word of God came to” whatever prophet we’re talking about.  Psalm twenty-nine talks about how powerful the word of God is.  God, just by speaking, breaks the cedars, twists the oaks, shakes the desert, strips the forest bare.
            The word of God is powerful.  The word of God is strong.  “The Word” is how God acts.  In fact, John goes on to say exactly that.  It’s through “the Word” that all things were made. 
So when John refers to Jesus as “the Word”, John is telling us something about Jesus.  He’s telling us that Jesus is powerful.  He’s telling us that Jesus is strong.  He’s telling us that God is about to act, and God is going to act through Jesus.  And Jesus is going to come to earth:  “The Word” became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
But Jesus was more than that.  Not that this would not be enough, but Jesus was more than that.  Listen to this:  “in him was life, and that life was the light of all people.”
Think about that.  Life is in Jesus.  And that life is the light of all people.  In other words, there is something of Jesus, something of God, in each person.  There is something of Jesus in you.  There is something of Jesus in me.  There is something of Jesus in everyone:  our friends, our enemies, people we know, people we don’t know.  Everyone has something of Jesus in them, because life is in Jesus and that life is the light of all people.
And listen to what John says about this light.  He says, “the true light that gives light to everyone…was in the world, and… the world did not receive him…Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children…born of God.”
If you and I believe in the name of Jesus, we have the right to become children of God.  Think about what that really means.  We refer to Jesus as the Son of God.  If we are children of God, that means we, too, are sons and daughters of God.  That means that, in the eyes of God the Father, you and I are just as important and just as loved as Jesus himself.  The Apostle Paul says something similar in Romans, Chapter Eight:  “we are God’s children [and] if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
Is that not awesome?  I sure think it is!  You and I are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.  To God the Father, you and I are the equal of Jesus Christ himself.  We don’t have the powers of Jesus, obviously, but God the Father sees us the same way that God the Father sees Jesus.  If we believe in Jesus, you and I are just as special, just as important, just as cared about, and just as loved, as Jesus himself is.
That just strikes me as incredible.  We talked last week about how, when we start to get an idea of who God really is, we cannot help but feel reverence for God.  But now, we see that this same God, this God who is greater and more powerful and more holy and more righteous and more everything than we can ever imagine, looks at us, as weak and as puny and as flawed and as sinful as we are, and considers us just as valuable and as significant and as precious as Jesus himself, and loves us just as much as Jesus himself.  That thought just blows me away, really.
And yet, there’s something else in this passage that’s at least as important, if not more important.  Remember how life is in Jesus and that life is the light of all people?  Well, listen to this:  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The darkness has not overcome the light.  The darkness will not overcome the light.  The darkness cannot overcome the light.  The life that is in Jesus, the life that is the light of all people, the life that is that light that shines in you and me and every other person who believes in Jesus Christ will not and cannot be overcome.  The darkness will not win.  Jesus will win.  And if we believe in Jesus, you and I will win, too.
Do you believe that?  Do you really believe it?
It can be hard sometimes.  It really can.  Because when we look at the world, sometimes it seems like it’s getting darker and darker.  There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world.  You don’t need me to go through the list of it.  All you need to do is turn on the news.  And if you don’t want to turn on the news, just go online.  There’s a long list of bad stuff that’s going on in the world.  And some of it’s really serious.  And it can seem like the darkness is going to win.
It can seem like that in our own lives, too, of course.  We’ve talked about that before, but that feeling of darkness is a very present reality for some people.  Maybe some people sitting out here today.  And if you’re going through that, you don’t need me to go through a list of it, either.  And in fact, sometimes this time of year, around Thanksgiving and Christmas, can make things seem even darker, because it seems like everyone else is celebrating and you’re not.  Things can feel really dark in our lives.  And it can seem like the darkness is going to win.
But it’s not.  Because no matter how dark it seems like it’s getting, the light is still shining.  The light of life, the light of Jesus, is still shining.  It shines in every person who believes in Jesus.  It shines it you.  It shines in me.  It shines in millions and millions of people, all over the world.  And it will keep shining.  And the darkness will not overcome it.  That’s a pretty awesome thought.  That thought just blows me away, too.
This is the first Sunday of Advent.  We’re starting to get ready for Christmas, for the birth of the Savior.  Christmas is a lot of things, but one of the things Christmas is, is the fulfillment of a promise.  It’s a promise that was made in the beginning, because Jesus Christ, “the Word” was there in the beginning.  It’s a promise that those of us who believe will be children of God, will be just as cherished and valued by God the Father as Jesus himself is.  It’s a promise that the light of life, the light of Jesus, will always be there.  And it’s a promise that Jesus’ light will shine in us, too, if we believe.
So as the Christmas season approaches, and as we get busier and busier, and as life gets more and more hectic, and as we hear about more and more bad news—because that’s what the news is, all the bad stuff—and as we start to get more and more worried that everything is falling apart, remember the awesome promises of God.  Remember the awesome promises of Christmas.  Remember that you are a child of God.  Remember that if you believe in Jesus Christ, then the light of life, the light of Jesus, is in you.  And the darkness can never overcome that light.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Zero Shades of Grey

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 22, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Malachi 6:1-4.

            On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we come to the end of our sermon series, “Who Are These Guys?”  We’ve been looking at the Minor Prophets.  We finish with the prophet Malachi.

            Scholars think the book of Malachi was written somewhere around 400 B. C.   It’s not just the last book of the Minor Prophets.  It’s the last book of the Old Testament.  And while the entire Old Testament is not arranged in chronological order, a lot of people think Malachi is the book that was written last.  After this, there were about four hundred years that the Bible does not talk about, with the silence broken with the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

            The Bible verses we read today are the last verses of the book of Malachi, and so of course the last words of the Old Testament.  You may remember that last week, when we discussed Zechariah, we talked about the Day of Judgment.  Malachi picks up on that theme.  And Malachi basically says each of us has a choice.  We can follow God and be saved, or we can refuse to follow God and be destroyed.

            God, speaking through Malachi says that twice in just these six verses.  Here’s how the passage puts it:  “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire…Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.  And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”  And later, God says, “I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents, or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

            It’s a pretty clear distinction God makes.  That can make us kind of uncomfortable, really.  You know, a lot of times we don’t like things to be that clear cut, to be that black and white.  We’re more comfortable with grey areas.  We like to think the answer always lies in the middle, that the answer always lies in compromise.  And in some situations it does, of course.  I’m not saying compromise is always a bad thing.  But when it comes to following God, there’s not a lot of room for compromise.  The way Malachi is written, we either follow God or we don’t.  That’s it.

            Now, I do want to point out a couple of things.  First, Malachi was written for the people of Israel.  The first words of the book are “A prophecy:  The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.”  The reason I point that out is that this means this book was written, this prophecy was made, to people who had heard the word, who knew who God was.  That means this prophecy applies to people who have the ability to make a clear choice whether to follow God or not.  It does not necessarily apply to people who don’t know God and are not able to make that choice.  Now, I still believe there will be a Day of Judgment for those people, too, but how that’s going to work is something for another day.  It’s not something that Malachi explicitly addresses, because again, Malachi was written for the people of Israel.

            And the other thing I want to point is that saying we either follow God or we don’t does not mean we’re required to be perfect.  We’ve talked before about the fact that we’re not capable of perfection and that God understands that.  We are to revere God’s name and remember God’s laws and decrees.  If we revere God’s name and do our best to obey God, God will forgive our flaws and our flubs and our mistakes.

            So let’s look at that word “revere”.  It’s not a word we use a lot these days.  We remember Paul Revere, some of us remember the musical group Paul Revere and the Raiders, and some of us even remember when the Twins had an outfielder named Ben Revere.  Other than that, though, “revere” is not a word we hear much.  What does it mean to “revere” God’s name?

            Well, if you look in the dictionary, you find that the word “revere” means “to treat with respect tinged with awe”.  And “awe” means an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.

            Do we feel that way about God?  I think we should.  I think most of us know we should.  But do we?

            How many of us think we have the right to tell God what to do?  I suspect a lot of us do.  Now, we’d never say it that way.  None of us would ever say we have the right to tell God what to do.  But how many times has something happened, and we think or even say, “God, why did you do that?  Why did you make that happen?  And if you did not make it happen, why did you let it happen?  How can a loving God let such terrible things happen to so many people?

            I suspect a lot of us have said that.  After an attack like 9/11 or what happened in France last week.  After a disaster like a tornado or an earthquake or the flooding that’s going on in Texas.  After a young person dies in an accident or gets cancer or some other terrible disease.  After we lose a job.  When things like that happen, we say, “God, why don’t you do something about that?”  And sometimes we get upset with God when it looks like God is not doing anything about it.

            That’s not exactly revering God, is it?  That’s not exactly holding God in awe.

            But I suspect God understands when we do things like that.  That does not make it right, but I think God understands why, when we’re grieving, or when we’re scared, or when we’re stressed, or when we just plain cannot understand what’s going on, why we start trying to tell God what to do.  And I think God will forgive that.

            But I think there’s a subtler, more dangerous way that we don’t revere God.  It sneaks up on us.  It can happen without us even noticing it, which is why it’s dangerous.  It happens when we believe in God, and we believe in Jesus as our Savior, but we just kind of put that belief in a little box, a little compartment of our life.  We keep our belief locked away and don’t let it affect the rest of our lives.

            It seems to me that’s the tricky one.  We don’t flat out reject God.  We say we still believe.  Maybe we go to church, at least sometimes.  Maybe we even pray.  Maybe we even read the Bible.  It’s just that we keep that church time, that prayer time, the Bible time, separate from the rest of our lives.  We leave church, we say Amen, we close the Bible, and then we go on about our business as if nothing had happened.  And, in fact, nothing has.

            We talked last week about our need to pray for God to put God’s Spirit into our hearts, into our souls, into our minds, into every aspect of our lives.  I think that’s how we get that feeling of reverence for God.  I’m not saying it’s the only way, but it’s the best way I know.  When we pray for God to put God’s spirit into our hearts and souls and minds and lives, and when we do it sincerely and consistently, we start to get an idea of just how incredible, how great, how awesome in every sense of the word that God is.  And when we start to get an idea of just who God is, we start to feel that reverence for God.  In fact, when we get an idea of who God is, we really will not be able to do anything but feel reverence for God.

            Malachi sets this up as a pretty clear choice.  We can be among the people who revere God and be saved.  Or, we can be among the arrogant and the evildoers and be stubble that gets set on fire.  That’s pretty much it.  Frankly, it’s not the way I’d like it to be set up.  I’d like there to be more grey areas.  But God did not ask me how to set this up.  God does things God’s way, not my way.  And the way this is written, we cannot just sort of follow God part of the time.  We either follow God—not perfectly, because we’re not capable of that, but the best we can, asking for God’s Spirit to be in our hearts and souls and minds and lives—or we don’t.  Period.

            As the saying goes, we are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of our choices.  The consequences here are pretty big.  In fact, they’re eternal.

            We each have to make that choice.  And none of us knows how long we’ll have to make it.  None of us is ever promised tomorrow.  We need to make this choice now, today.  And we need to keep making it every day.  We need to choose to ask for God’s Spirit to be in us, so we can truly follow God and feel reverence and awe for God.

            In a few days, it will be Thanksgiving.  Many of us will think about all the things we have to be thankful for.  When we do, let’s remember to thank God for giving us the chance to choose salvation.  And let’s make that choice, today and every day.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The End of the World As We Know It

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 15, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Zechariah 2:10--3:10.

            We’re nearing the end of our sermon series, “Who Are These Guys?”  We’ve been looking at the Minor Prophets.  Next week we’ll end it with Malachi, but today we look at the prophet Zechariah.
            Zechariah, scholars think, gave his message at about 520 B. C.  That’s right about the same time as Haggai, who we talked about last week.  But Zechariah’s message is completely different.
            Zechariah’s book is what is referred to as an apocalyptic book.  In other words, Zechariah sees visions of the Day of Judgment and the end times.  Zechariah actually has some similarities to Revelation.  You have the angel with a measuring line who is going to measure Jerusalem, you have the gold lampstands, you have the golden bowls, all that sort of thing.  There are a lot of things in the vision Zechariah had that are repeated in the vision John was given in Revelation.
            And so, as we talk about this, we’re going to need to talk about the end times.  That’s not a comfortable thought for some of us.  A lot of us don’t really understand these things.  We’re not sure just how we’re supposed to take them, whether they’re to be taken literally or whether they’re symbolic or what.  And so, because we don’t understand it, we’re tempted to do two things.  One of them is to just dismiss it and not even think about it.  The other is that we tend to be scared of it.
            I don’t think either of those is very helpful to us.  These things are in the Bible for reasons.  After all, as Christians, we claim to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to dismiss part of God’s inspired word and ignore it just because it’s hard for us to understand.  We may need to take more time with it so we can understand it, or we may need to use our faith and try to accept it even though we cannot understand it.  But just dismissing it from our minds is not a good option for us as Christians.
            But we also should not be scared of it.  The Day of Judgment may be bad news for some people, but it’s not going to be bad news for Christians.  It’s going to be wonderful news, really.  Because that’s the day God is going to step in and make everything right.
            That’s what God is trying to tell the people in our reading for today.  God, speaking through Zechariah, says, “Shout and be glad, daughter Zion.  For I am coming, and I will live among you…Be still before the Lord, all people, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
            And there’s more.  The Lord is going to rebuke Satan.  There’s a prophecy of the coming of Jesus, where God says, “I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.”  God goes on to say, “See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!...I will engrave an inscription on it…and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.”
            God is telling us that there is no reason for us, as Christians, to be afraid of the Day of Judgment.  We should shout!  We should be glad!  God is coming!  Our sins will be removed from us!  We should not be scared of the Day of Judgment.  We should look forward to it!
            But that, of course, leads to another question.  When’s it going to happen?  When will this Day of Judgment actually be?  We don’t know, of course.  While Jesus was on earth he said even he did not know, that God the Father is the only one who knows.  The one thing we know is that things are going to get pretty bad before it happens.
            And that leads some people to think it’s going to be pretty soon.  In fact, some people wonder why it has not happened already.  It seems like there’s either war or the threat of war all over the world.  There are lots and lots of people living in poverty.  We see people being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.  We see natural disasters happening all over the world.  And so, some people think, well, those are supposed to be some of the signs, right?  Does that mean God is going to act soon?
            But of course, we can look at it the other way, too.  We can say, well, there have been lots of wars in the world for all of human history, really.  There have even been world wars.  There have always been lots of people living in poverty.  We can think of many, many times in history in which people were persecuted for their faith in Jesus.  And of course, natural disasters have been happening for all of recorded history, too.  There’s nothing new about any of this.  So does that mean God is not going to act for a long time yet?
            I don’t know.  But I do know one thing.  At some point, God is going to act.  Zechariah tells us so.  Again, he says, “Be still before the Lord, all people, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
            Now, saying that God will rouse himself from his holy dwelling does not mean that right now God is asleep.  It also does not mean that God is just watching and not doing anything.  God is active in God’s world.  But for now, God is allowing things to play out as they will.  God, and only God, will decide when the right time to act.  But God will definitely act.
            And when God acts, it’s going to change everything.  And that can be scary, too.  Because what that means, really, is the end of the world as we know it.  And a lot of us are kind of uncomfortable with that thought.  We like our lives the way they are.  Or if we don’t like them, at least we’re kind of okay with them.  We’re used to life being this way.  We kind of know how to handle it.  When God acts, well, what’s life going to be like then?  There’s no way to know.
            But while we may not know exactly what life will be like when God acts, we know one thing—it’s going to be wonderful.  It will be the end of the world as we know it, but the world we don’t know is going to better than we can imagine. 
Listen to what God, speaking through Zechariah, has to say about it.  “The seed will grow well, the vine will produce its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew.  I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people…Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong… The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah…Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to seek the favor of the Lord.  I myself am going.’  And many peoples and many powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and his favor.  In those days the people from all languages and nations will…say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
            We’ve talked before about how, even though we believe in God, we so often have a hard time trusting God.  When God finally acts, we won’t have that problem any more.  Not only will we trust God, other people will come to have faith and trust God, too.  People who are not even Christians will come to believe and to trust.  Again, people from all languages and nations will say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.”  What an awesome thing that will be.  Can you even imagine it?  People storming the doors of the church, coming in and saying, "Let us in!  Let us in!  We want to be with you, because we have heard that God is with you!”  What an incredible thing that will be.
            And I don’t want to gloss over the greatest thing of all.  This was in our reading, and I mentioned it, but we have not talked about it yet.  Chapter Three, Verse Two says, “The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!’”
            Because Satan is active in the world now.  We don’t know how that plays out, exactly.  Right now, of course, we are fallen, sinful people.  We can make enough messes all on our own, without Satan’s help.  But we know Satan has not gone away.  And Satan will not go away until God steps in.  But when God does step in, Satan is going to be defeated.  And it will be a final, unconditional defeat.  It’s a defeat that only God can bring about.  And God will bring it about.
           We don’t know why God has not acted yet.  We don’t know when God will act.  But we know that, when the time is right, God will act.  We may not understand exactly how it’s going to happen, but that’s okay.  That’s stuff for God to know.  But God will act.  And when God acts, as Christians we don’t have to be scared of it.  It will be the end of the world as we know it, but only to make way for an even better, more wonderful, more incredible world.  A world in which God will be living with us.  A world in which Satan is defeated.  And a world in which everything will be more awesome that you and I can ever imagine.