Sunday, November 25, 2018

The King and His People

November 25, 2018: 34th (Last) Sunday in Ordinary Time: Solemnity of Christ the King
Daniel 7:13–14 / Psalm 93 / Revelation 1:5–8 / John 18:33b–37
The King and His People

You've seen the cartoons with space people: A little guy gets out of the spaceship, walks up to someone and says, "Take me to your leader." Christians know that whoever appears to be leader in this world is not the leader. We believe Jesus is the ruler over all the kings (and presidents) of the earth. On the day he comes back not only are those who knew it by faith going to be confirmed in that faith, but the people who doubted and the people who rebelled and the people who would have nothing to do with God are going to realize it when he comes in visible glory as King of kings and Lord of lords.

John has a vision of reality in Revelation, and as he writes these titles of Jesus his heart gets full: To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father…. Because Jesus is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, there can only be one response: To him be glory and power. Amen.

As John expresses his praise he tells us these three things about Jesus. First of all, he loves us. Secondly, he has freed us from our sins. Thirdly, he has made us a kingdom and priests to serve his God. If we are going to be able to keep spiritual equilibrium in a world that is no friend of godliness, we need to come back over and over to who Jesus is.  That's why we read the Scriptures. That's why we come to the Church and confess the Creed. This is the Gloria in the early part of the Liturgy. That’s why we feed on Jesus in the Eucharist. We live in a world that does not understand and thus disdains such things; we are immersed in a bias that does not recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior and King of the world.

We need to keep coming back to this so that we don't lose touch with who we are. Jesus is a faithful witness. He told Pilate: for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. In a time when being able to know truth is ridiculed, we confess these truths every week: After being sentenced to death and going to the cross Jesus died and come back to life, he ascended into heaven, and was glorified at God's right hand; he is coming again. This is the framework out of which we live our lives. These are not words to be repeated mechanically when we confess our Faith with the Creed. This is life for our souls. We should awaken each morning and go through our days remembering that God has loved us through his Son. He has loved us so much that he has forgiven us our sins, and he has made us a kingdom and priests to serve him.

What does this mean? First it is a reminder that our allegiance is to God and his rule in contrast to any other earthly system that would seek our allegiance. The only thing that is worthy of our ultimate allegiance is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the kingdom which is going to endure when all other kingdoms have fallen.

There is a description of Christians in Peter’s first letter that is rooted in the kingship of Jesus and our union with him: You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. Why? That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

As recipients of the Lord’s mercy, we are to be a kingdom and priests to God––we are called to model the life of Jesus in us. What happens when we do that? Other people find out who God is. What happens when other people find out who God really is? The whole world is transformed into the glory of God! That's what Daniel saw in his vision. It’s the goal towards which all of human history is progressing.

But for that to happen in us, we need to remember who Jesus is. We need to keep before us each day what Jesus has done. We need to give ourselves again and again to the one who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. God wants us to be his people. He wants us to be his witnesses. Through Jesus Christ, he has done everything for us that needs to be done. All we need to do is respond…. every day. 

So for today…. and tomorrow…. and every day thereafter… Let Jesus be the King of your heart!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thinking About The End Of The World

18 November, 2018 –– 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Daniel 12:1–3 / Psalm 16 / Hebrews 10:11–14, 18 / Mark 13:24–32
Thinking About The End Of The World (as we know it)

As the liturgical year approaches its close, the Scriptures increasingly focus our attention on what is traditionally referred to as the four last things: death, judgment, Heaven, Hell. These are not popular topics for preaching. It seems that even in the Church there is a tendency to want to keep our attention on good things in this world. We do not like to be reminded that this world is passing away. 

Yet there is popular interest in trying to foretell the future. Some people use horoscopes and other occult practices that God has told his people to avoid. But many Christians try to use Scripture the same way with such things as the visions in Daniel’s prophecy and the imagery in the book of Revelation. That is not the focus of Christian Faith. Even Jesus’ words about the last-days do not give exact future details.

Jesus talks mostly about how his disciples should respond to the events going on around them. This is a wisdom that focuses on what we can do something about, not on the things beyond our control. We cannot do too much about the big catastrophes or way the world will end; the one thing you and I can do something about is our own response to the things that happen in and around our lives. How shall we respond to our world––even when it seems that it is falling apart? It is normal to fear for our comfort, our happiness, our security, and to wonder what might happen to us and our children.

Jesus' words in Mark 13 can be expressed in four short exhortations. 

The first one is: Don't be dazzled; be steady. Jesus warns not to let the world around us, with all its wonders, sweep us off our feet. Whatever it is that is so impressive, we must remember it will not last forever. We need to be steady in our assessment of the things around us; they will not last forever. Nothing in this world is forever. We will not be in this world forever.

A second guideline is: Don't be deceived; be studious. Jesus says that other people will claim to be the Christ. He says that people will say it is time for the end when it is not. Jesus gives the parable of a fig tree: just as one can look at a tree and discern which season it is, so can a disciple who is studious discern the signs for his coming––not so that we know exactly ‘when” but so that we can live wisely.

A third lesson here is: Don't be dismayed; be steadfast. In v13 he says, the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. In the face of opposition.... in the face of hate.... in the face of arrest, imprisonment or death––do not be dismayed; be steadfast. Jesus says we will only be saved as we stand firm. Be steadfast.

The fourth word is: Do not be distracted, but be still. Jesus says to be careful, to watch, to pray (vs35,36). In other words, to be still. God tells us through the Psalmist, Be still, and know that I am God

The reason we are to be still is so we can truly see what is going on around us and, in the imagery of the fig tree parable, discern the season around us. It is hard to be still. We so easily surround ourselves with distraction––some electronic device commanding our attention almost all the time. We stay in a hurry. We do not want to be alone. How can we hear the voice of God? How can we keep watch for the things which would distract us from the kingdom?

Jesus told his disciples these things because of what is someday going to happen: the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.... he will send his angels to gather his elect from the ends of the earth (v26,27). Yes, terrible things happen: wars, famines, wildfires and hurricanes and tornadoes, homicides, addictions that cause death.... The list goes on and on, but these things do not have the last word.

For God's people, these things are reminders of a greater reality: the world will not always be this way. Someday Jesus will return and make it new, but until then we are in a spiritual war; the demons of hell will fight like crazy to keep the world the way it is now. Jesus gives his disciples these words to help us understand what is happening around us, and to know how to respond.

In the face of threatening circumstances, here are four things ways to keep our spiritual equilibrium:

–– do not be dazzled, but be steady;
–– do not be deceived, but be studious;
–– do not be dismayed, but be steadfast;
–– do not be distracted, but be still.

The basic invitation is always the same: keep our hearts open to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As this life disintegrates, God's word is sure. This world is passing away; his kingdom is forever.

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