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Sermon for Sunday 25 November 2018

FIRST READING Isaiah 51:4-6

{The Lord said,} 4“Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”


PSALM Psalm 93

1The Lord is King; he has put on splendid apparel; the Lord has put on his apparel and girded himself with strength. 2He has made the whole world so sure that it cannot be moved 3Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; you are from everlasting. 4The waters have lifted up, O Lord, the waters have lifted up their voice; the waters have lifted up their pounding waves. 5Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mightier is the Lord who dwells on high. 6Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and forevermore.


SECOND READING Revelation 1:4b-8

4bGrace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

GOSPEL Mark 13:24-37

{Jesus said to Peter, James, John and Andrew,} 24“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning — 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”



Some time ago the leader of a men’s group was discussing how odd people can act in elevators. I’m sure some of you have experienced some of what the men’s group leader was talking about. You get on a crowded elevator and it’s as quiet as a tomb. Several floors later you realize, not a word has been spoken the entire journey and everyone is facing the same way. Heaven help anyone who doesn’t follow the cultural norm. Of course, there’s always that one person who refuses to conform to the accepted social practices. Tony Campolo says he got on an elevator one time and it occurred to him that everyone was standing like statues behind him. Tony, being the extrovert that he is, turned and faced everyone and led them in a chorus of “You Are My Sunshine.” I’m not sure I have the intestinal fortitude to do that.
Anyway, the leader of this men’s group was encouraging his listeners to use an elevator ride as an opportunity to fulfill the great commission to evangelize others. “People will remain silent in an elevator,” he said, “staring at the floor number.” Challenging the men to use their imagination, he asked, “What do you suppose Jesus would say to the people in an elevator?” There was an immediate response from a man in the back. He said Jesus might ask, “Going up?” I think it’s interesting, and productive, that 2000+ years after Jesus’ death and resurrection we’re still asking, “What would Jesus do?”
In just 5 short weeks we’ll celebrate the end of calendar year 2018 and the start of 2019. Since Terry and I will be in Arizona, happy New Year! And for those of us who also follow the Liturgical calendar, as you know, this is the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday, believe it or not, we begin the season of Advent and of course 23 days later we’ll celebrate the birth of our Lord. So, today, at this end of the church year, we take time to recognize the divine nature of Jesus and all He means to us by celebrating Christ the King Sunday. But this particular celebration doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, does it?
When you consider the fact that we spend a great deal of the liturgical year looking at Jesus’ human life, and the fact that we celebrated Thanksgiving this past Thursday plus the fact that Christmas carols are already playing in the department stores, we probably don’t give this final Sunday of the church year the attention it deserves; but it is an important day. Look again at two of our lessons from the scriptures. The first is found in the gospel of Mark. Jesus is telling the disciples that He will return some day with great power and glory to gather His faithful from every corner of the globe; from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (vs. 26-27). No matter where or how a child of God has been laid to rest, we will all be gathered and meet Jesus when He returns. The second passage is from the book of the Revelation.
John was writing to the seven churches that were in Asia: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come (that is God the Father). . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (vs. 4b-6). Today on this Christ the King Sunday we celebrate all that Christ means to us, and to His followers all around the globe. And on this last Sunday of the church year, it’s good for us to reflect on all that Jesus is and does in our behalf.
And a good place to start is to remind ourselves that Jesus is someone who understands us. He has walked our path; He has gone the distance in our shoes. There was an article in the news a while back about a publishing company that had a newcomer working there that no one recognized. The reason no one recognized her was that she was working undercover to research a part in an upcoming movie. The movie was Bridget Jones and the actress working to research the part of a secretary was Renee Zellweger. For two months this Hollywood actress carried out humble tasks like sending out review books, filing newspaper cuttings and making the coffee.
Oblivious to her real identity, full-time staff offered this humble office “go-fer” advice about the best places to eat and how to get along in London’s publishing world. Later they were stunned that in those two months no one in the office recognized the Golden Globe-winning actress. One member of the staff did wonder why the new girl kept a picture of comedian Jim Carrey on her desk. Zellweger was dating Carrey at the time. It’s not unusual for an actor to submerge themselves in a role like that. Anyone who is a professional, wants to get it right.
Joseph Mallord Turner, an English painter, invited Charles Kingsley to his studio to see a picture of a storm at sea. In rapt admiration, Kingsley exclaimed, “It’s wonderful! It’s so realistic! How did you do it?” The artist replied, “I went to the coast of Holland and engaged a fisherman to take me out to sea in the next storm. Entering his boat as a storm was brewing, I asked him to bind me to the mast. Then he steered his boat into the eye of the storm.
“The storm raged with such fury that at times I longed to be in the bottom of the boat where the waves would blow over me. But I couldn’t, since I was bound to the mast. Not only did I see the storm in its raging fury, I felt it! It blew into me, as it were, until I became a part of it. After this terrible ordeal, I returned to my studio and painted the picture.” It’s not unusual for an artist to go to great lengths to gain the perspective of something or someone he or she is portraying.
What is unique, however, is the contention of Christians that the Lord of all the universe emptied Himself to walk where we walk, to experience what we experience. When we take our concerns to Jesus, we know He understands because He’s been here. He’s experienced the pain of rejection, disappointment, grief, of death, both His own and that of His loved ones, and all the other emotions that make it so hard to be a human. That’s just one of the things Christ is to us: He is someone who understands us because He has walked a mile, and more, in our shoes. The second thing we realize about Jesus is that He’s also someone who has set a standard for us. What would Jesus do? It’s still a really good question to ask.
And with that important question in mind, we also need to ask, how can we make this a better world? Easy, show it Jesus. Let His love, mercy, and forgiveness stand against the cruelty, hatred, and violence of a dark, sin filled, world. However, I think there are times when we make Jesus out to be too soft and laid-back. We do this when we unthinkingly emphasize His grace and ignore the demands He makes of His followers. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” He said on one occasion. (Mat. 5:20) Jesus wasn’t talking about the theological hair-splitting that sometimes characterized the Pharisee’s religion. He was saying that certain things are expected out all who would be His followers.
Think back to the best teachers, mentors or coaches you’ve had. Didn’t they have high standards, and didn’t they expect you to rise to meet those standards? In this day and time when far too many Christians act like everyone else in the world, we may wonder if we’ve gone too far to make the gospel acceptable to everyone. Far too many have turned the costly grace won by Jesus into cheap grace. Cheap grace ignores the demands of discipleship and shifts the focus of our attention and loyalty from God to us. We become guilty of Adam and Eve’s sin, wanting to be like God.
In his book How to Become a Rainmaker, Jeffrey Fox tells about a young manager in a large corporation who captured the attention of his company’s sales force by offering terrific prizes for meeting their sales quotas. The contest rules were easy: reach your quota, you win; fall short, you lose, and there were no exceptions. Three weeks before the contest deadline an earthquake hit Los Angeles. The California sales office was badly damaged and business was interrupted; the sales team didn’t reach its quota.
California was the largest market in this young manager’s company. The California sales team had great influence in the company, and they wanted the prizes even though they hadn’t made their quota. But the manager said no. The California sales team used all its muscle and they had an ally. The powerful vice president of sales insisted that the manager award California the prizes. The vice president argued that the team missed its quota by only a few percentage points and, “Be reasonable,” he said, “there was an earthquake.” The young manager firmly stood his ground, and replied, “Earthquakes don’t count.” He did not award California a prize.
The next year there were record blizzards in Chicago, floods along the Mississippi, a brownout in New York City, a natural gas shortage and a political crisis in Washington. And yet, that next year every region in the country hit its quota. California came in first, and everyone won a prize. The best leaders set high standards and expect their followers to reach those standards.
Now we also need to remind ourselves that this has nothing to do with our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith alone, not works. It’s in response to that free gift of grace, that we accept the responsibilities Jesus has placed on His people; we’re called to be salt, to be leaven, to be a light set on a hill. People should be able to tell by our words and deeds that we follow Jesus. John wrote in Revelation: “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father . . .” We are Christ’s representatives in the world. We are called to reflect His love and His acceptance. What does Jesus mean to us? Christ understands us, and He has set a standard for us. And of even more importance, Christ is our Savior.
Before John calls us “a kingdom and priests serving his God and Father . . .” he wrote, “who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood . . .” We are those whom Jesus loved so much that He gave His life in our behalf. Writer John Hendee once used a powerful analogy of Christ’s sacrifice in our behalf.
All of us should recognize the name Louis Pasteur, the man who revolutionized the practice of medicine with what was once called “germ-theory.” What we may not be as familiar with, is his co-worker in these experiments, Dr. Felix Ruh, a Jewish doctor in Paris. Dr. Ruh’s granddaughter died of black diphtheria. Ruh vowed that he would find out what killed his granddaughter. He locked himself in his laboratory for days and emerged with a fierce determination to prove, with his colleague, Louis Pasteur, that the “germ theory” was more than just a theory.
The medical association had disapproved of Pasteur and had succeeded in getting him exiled, but Pasteur didn’t go far from Paris. He and Ruh hid in the forest and built a laboratory in which to continue the forbidden research. Twenty beautiful horses were led out into the forest of the improvised laboratory. Scientists, doctors, and nurses came to watch the experiment. Ruh opened a steel vault and took out a large pail filled with black diphtheria germs, which he had cultured carefully for months. There were enough germs in that pail to kill everyone in France. The scientist went to each beautiful horse and swabbed its nostrils, tongue, throat, and eyes with those deadly germs. The scientists waited several days for the outcome.
Soon the horses developed a terrific fever, and all but one soon died. Most of the doctors and scientists wearied of the experiment and didn’t stick around for what they thought would be the death of the last horse. The orderly on duty (while Ruh, Pasteur, and several others were sleeping on cots in the stables) had been instructed to awaken the scientists if there was any change in the remaining animal’s temperature.
About 2:00 a.m. the temperature of the last surviving horse decreased by a half-degree, and the orderly awakened Ruh and Pasteur. By morning, the horse’s temperature had dropped two more degrees. By night the fever was gone entirely and this last horse was able to stand, eat, and drink. Dr. Ruh drew blood from the veins of this animal that had developed the disease but survived it. The scientists were driven quickly to the Municipal Hospital in Paris. They forced their way past the superintendent and guards and entered a ward where 300 babies had been segregated to die from black diphtheria.
Using the blood of this last surviving horse, they forcibly inoculated every one of the babies. All but three babies lived and recovered completely! They were saved by the one who had overcome. This is, of course, a crude analogy. But scripture tells us, in a way that is beyond human comprehension, that we’ve been saved by the blood of Christ, the One who overcame. Because Jesus shed His divinity and was obedient to death on a cross, our sins have been swept away.
And so, on this last day of the church year, we bow at the throne of Jesus, the one who now sits at the right hand of God in glory. He rules forever because He was obedient to the will of the Father and walked where we walk. Additionally, He has set a high standard of love for us to live up to, and by His shed blood, He has taken away our sins. And so, on this final day of the liturgical year, we stop and take time to proclaim that Jesus is indeed, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

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