Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
November 17, 2019
“Only One Future”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
For many people the future is scary. There are lots of folks who look ahead and do it with much fear. Here are some of the worries – economy, debt, student loans, housing, homelessness, medical costs, troubles that nations continue to have with other nations. Some worry about the next war, whenever that comes, they look at the epidemic of drug use and continued violence and the whole thing about a changing climate. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist or be pessimistic, but it seems to me that there are some concerns about the future.
This past Sunday (November 10) I read the lead story to find out who is to blame for all this stuff. It’s me. I mean, it is the people born in my era – the Baby Boomers. We have messed it up big time. At least that is what a new phrase going around is stating. The phrase is, “OK, boomer.” It is being spoken by Gen Z, Gen X, baby-busters, 20-nothings and the Millennials. I think that is everyone who is younger than us old farts.
“OK, boomer” is a word that tells the world that we just don’t get it. The article says, “The Gen Z progenitors of this insolent slogan say they use it because they’re inheriting a collapsing climate, an unequal economy and endless battles overseas that they didn’t start…” “OK, boomer” sends the message that the grown-ups have screwed us up totally, and are veering so speedily into irrelevance, that convincing them of anything is a waste of keyboard characters.” OUCH!!
Jesus spoke about the future with some scary words as well. “Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:10-11) Same chapter, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26) At least Jesus didn’t say all this was happening because of us boomers!!
Scary, right? I think we can see two different audiences in this chapter, two different time periods that Jesus is addressing. Both are spoken of a future that is terrifying. The first section of Luke 21:5-24 is about the destruction of Jerusalem. The second section (Luke 21:25-36) is about the destruction of the world. When the disciples were marveling about the beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem Jesus levels their exuberance, “As for what you see here, the time is coming when not one stone will be left on another; every one of then will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6) In 70 AD, the 40th year since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Romans were brutal with the destruction of Jerusalem. The Temple, 82 years in the making, 500 yards long, 400 yards wide, was destroyed. About 1 million men, women and children were massacred in a 5-month siege. Not one Jew was left in Jerusalem. For years after 70 AD no one was allowed back in the city or even in the area. No rebuilding. Some folks were allowed to remember the death of Jerusalem by having a vigil from a distance. Jesus told them the future, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles.” (Luke 21:24b)
The second audience, the second event that is addressed by Jesus is the very conclusion of the world. Jesus says that end will come unexpectedly. “For it will come upon all those on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you will be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:35-36)
That is scary, isn’t it? Terrible things will happen. Evil will grow. People of faith will be persecuted. Jesus said of this, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive.” (Matthew 24:22a)
I have to tell you, there is something challenging about preaching a sermon about the end of the world. Nobody cares. I feel like Chicken Little hollering, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” We live life as if there wouldn’t be an end, ever. In Peter’s epistle he confronts the same thing, and that was 2,000 years ago, “They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised. Ever since our fathers died everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” (II Peter 3:4)
So, lets make this more practical. How does someone who is going through hell in life survive? How does someone make it when everything has gone south? How do you do it when the questions are more numerous than the answers. And what if I’m not just talking about someone, but I’m talking about you?
Right here, in the midst of chaos, Jesus says something that is quite amazing, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up, lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27-28) Stand up? Lift up your heads? How about hiding? How about running away? This is scary stuff, but Jesus promises that the future is going to be ok.
There is only one future for us and it combines the reality of hardship and difficulty and problems, along with the reality of God’s strong and saving hand. “Stand up, lift up your heads, your redemption is drawing near.”
This week Ben Hart, an atheist who lives in Kentucky, got what he has been asking to receive for the last three years. He wanted to have vanity license plates with the phrase IM GOD (I am God). The U.S. District Court ruled that he can have that plate that states such a thing. I hope Ben, sometime in his life, realizes that what he has on his license plate is just foolishness. I hope one day he gets to know how great the true God is and that He finds joy in knowing Him. I hope the same for us.
There is only one future, and it is a glorious one, for all those under the strong hand of God. I have a friend, Polly, who I worked with at my former congregation, who sends me her Christmas letter every year. On page two, after pictures of all the grandkids, is her assurance about this future that we face, “Don’t be afraid of tomorrow; God is already there.”
Here at Ascension I have already announced that on January 5, 2020, we are going to try to tackle the Book of Revelation in the Sunday Morning Bible Class. Through the years when I have asked for suggestions for topics and books to study, some crazy person always wants to study the Book of Revelation. I just pretend I don’t hear them. Revelation – it is just a weird book, right? But we’re going to study it and get confused together. (We do that around here at the beginning of every new decade!!) But I shouldn’t be terrified of this book because I, and you, know how it ends. Jesus wins. He fights everything evil and dark and stands up as Lord and Master. It is like we read in this text, “Stand up. Lift up your heads. Your redemption is drawing near.”
Why do we know about such a strong saving hand in the midst of the chaos of life and the great challenges that exist in the world? Because God has spoken His truth by His word. In this chapter Jesus speaks, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33) Like Peter also says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you.” (I Peter 1:22-25)
Sometimes we don’t like to look at the future. Maybe life is too hard. Sometimes there are too many unknowns. Sometimes it just scares us. If that is the case, I call you to look at Jesus. He is your Savior. He is the Master and Lord of all things. His word is certain – believe it.
There is only one future for the rest of our lives and for our eternity. Jesus says, “Stand up. Lift up your heads. Your redemption is drawing near.” Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Amen!!