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Sermon for November 27, 2022 – Advent 1

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5001 | Our Coming Hope
Cara Garrity

This week begins the season of Advent, a time when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, his arrival into our lives, and his anticipated Second Coming. During Advent, much attention is given to the arrival of Jesus as a baby in a manger. While we should celebrate the incarnation, overlooking the other ways Jesus arrives in our lives will cause us to miss a lot of what Advent teaches us.

You see, while Advent is a season of celebration, it is also a time of self-reflection and anticipation. We are invited to see and welcome all the ways Jesus unexpectedly arrives in our day-to-day lives.

The Advent season also causes us to anticipate the Second Coming of Christ — a time when all that is wrong will be made right. Though the first advent of Jesus established the kingdom of God on earth, we look around and see that our world is still plagued by war, contention, apathy, hate, and other forms of darkness. Advent gives us hope that the darkness will one day be completely chased away by God’s light.

The prophet Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of the world after Christ remakes it at his Second Coming. He writes:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah 2:2-5

Isaiah is using the symbol of a temple mountain for the Kingdom of God, when eternal life is freely given to all who follow Christ. All people will be drawn to God and his rule will be marked by justice and peace. There will be no more war and the things that divide us will fade away. God himself will teach all humanity to be like him and his kingdom will never end. In the midst of the darkness that threatens to fill us with doubt, despair, and disillusionment, Christ fills us with himself – the light that destroys darkness. This is the hope we cling to.

As followers of Jesus, Advent encourages us to live like Christ without hesitation. We are emboldened to stand against injustice, corruption, oppression, and every other form of darkness because Jesus is the Light of the world. We are freed to live boldly in the reality of Christ’s Second Coming, knowing that Jesus is our hope, and he cannot fail.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 122:1-9 • Isaiah 2:1-5 • Romans 13:11-14 • Matthew 24:36-44

This week begins the season of Advent, a time when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, his arrival into the life of every believer, and his anticipated Second Coming. This week’s theme is put off darkness and put on the armor of light. The call to worship Psalm is a hymn of joy over Jerusalem, God’s holy city. The psalmist is moved to pray for the inhabitants of Jerusalem to be beacons of light, living in peace and protected by God within the city’s walls. Isaiah provides us with a beautiful description of God’s kingdom, which is characterized by peace and justice — a mountain that draws all inhabitants of the world to it. Due to the reality of the present and coming kingdom, Isaiah’s audience is invited to walk in “the light of the Lord.” In Romans, Paul encouraged his readers to lay aside dark actions and clothe themselves in Christ, who is light and protection. In Matthew, Jesus admonished his followers to be continuously prepared for his arrival by doing the things he instructed them to do.

Should We Celebrate Jesus’ Second Coming?

Matthew 24:36-44

We begin the Advent season this week — a time when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, his arrival into the life of every believer, and his anticipated Second Coming. Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” so we remember the various ways Jesus comes to us individually and collectively. Most of the imagery surrounding this season focuses on Christ’s first coming, and that makes sense. The nativity story is amazing, with memorable visuals like the manger, guiding star, and wise men. It is easy to turn our attention to such a phenomenal event.

Perhaps it is easy to shift our celebration and gratitude concerning the incarnation to Christ’s advent into our lives. Every believer has some kind of personal history with Jesus; a story about how he arrived in our lives. (At least from our perspective, because in truth he was always there.) So, we may not find it hard to imagine ourselves celebrating Jesus right along with a certain group of shepherds. We may not have difficulty rejoicing over Jesus’ first coming and personal advent, but what about Christ’s Second Coming? Do we celebrate his eventual return in the same way? Of course, the Second Coming brings us joy and hope that one day all things will be made new. But, what about the event itself? Do we hope to bear witness to the return of Christ and the end of this world? For many of us, the answer is no.

For many of us, Christ’s Second Coming is a little scary. At the very least, it can seem a bit strange. Let’s be honest, what we think we know about the return of Jesus does not make most people break out in celebratory singing. Notice that I said “what we think we know” because it appears as though no one really knows for sure. Doesn’t it seem like everyone says something different? Some think a bunch of people disappear in something called the Rapture. Some say that there will not be a Rapture, but a big war when people see Jesus. Maybe both? It could be that believers have to go to a place of safety, but didn’t they already disappear in the Rapture? I think there may be some witnesses or an anti-Christ. There’s definitely a dragon, although no one seems to agree on the identity of any of these folks. Are they even people?

Many seem to believe that Jesus’ return will happen soon, but every prediction of when has been wrong. Do we just need to find the right formula or algorithm? Maybe the bottom line is that at Jesus Christ’s return there will be lots of death, lots of judgment, the end of the world, and it can happen at any time. Right?*

I do not mean to make light of this important topic, but I am trying to show that there is a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and fear associated with our understanding of Christ’s Second Coming. This apprehension can negatively affect how we see Jesus and his return. In many Christian circles, Jesus’ Second Coming is used almost like a threat of impending doom to keep us in line instead of a source of joy and hope. This undercuts two core beliefs of our faith — that the gospel of Jesus Christ is, in fact, good news, and that God is love. Advent season is a great time to get more clarity on what we need to know about Jesus’ return, so we can internalize the truth that we never need to fear the Savior of humanity.

For answers, we will start with Jesus and some of what he says about his Second Coming. Let’s look at his words recorded in the Book of Matthew:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:36-44 NIV)

Before we unpack the passage, we should take note of Jesus’ starting point. All that he shares in these verses is from the perspective of someone who does not know when the events he described will happen. Jesus never relinquished his divinity. He was and is 100% God and 100% human. However, in his incarnation, Christ humbled himself and lived like a human being, except for a few occasions when the Father instructed him to reveal some of his divine power (i.e. the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-8). So, in his humanity, Jesus did not know when he would return. Therefore, we have to conclude that the moment of Christ’s return is not important for us to know.

Studying this and other similar passages to devise a detailed timeline and sequence of events of the end of time misses the point. While we should seek to understand Scripture as best we can, it is not important to know the “when” of Christ’s return. We are not even supposed to know the key events surrounding the Second Coming. If we were, the Bible would be far less murky on the subject. We do not need to know these things in order for us to do the most important things, follow Christ, worship, and bear witness to him. We are naturally curious about the future events hinted to in the Bible, however, we should not use prophecy for our own purposes. We need to approach prophecy in the way God intended.

In this passage, Jesus explained what he wants his audience to know. First, he assured his followers that he will return at some undetermined time after his ascension. Next, the Second Coming could happen at any time, so believers should live holy lives, not self-centered lives. Last, Jesus’ return could take time, so we should be prepared to persist in participating in his life and work. Put simply, Jesus told his followers, in light of his Second Coming, to live as if Jesus was coming today, but plan like he would not return in his audience’s lifetime. Not doing so could have unpleasant and lasting consequences for those who do not remain spiritually prepared.

In his compassion, Jesus taught his disciples how to navigate the “now” and “not yet” of the kingdom of God. Jesus ushered in the kingdom (an eternal space where God lovingly rules and people strive to follow him as one), and his followers can experience the benefits of the kingdom now. At the same time, we live in the “present evil age,” and the kingdom is hidden and will one day be revealed in full. Jesus revealed the kingdom, but our brokenness causes humans to experience the kingdom imperfectly. However, he promised to return and make everything new so that we can all experience the kingdom of God in full for all eternity.

Jesus knows us, and he knows the natural tendencies of humans who exist in ambiguous times – like the period of the “now” and “not yet.” In this passage, Christ addressed two harmful ways of being. First, Jesus had the self-indulgent in view. Some live by the saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” If these folks knew when Christ would return, they would live self-centered lives and only “act Christian” when the deadline approached. The danger of this way of being is that the self-indulgent acknowledge the coming kingdom but do not truly want to be a part of it. The purpose of our faith is not to produce people who look Christian, it is to help us get to know Christ and be changed by that relationship. The self-indulgent worship their appetites and desires and do not prioritize God. They want to look outwardly holy to avoid eternal unpleasantness, but do not see sin as the enemy it is. They want to embrace sin without experiencing the consequences. The self-indulgent show by their actions that they do not want to be citizens of the kingdom, and God will not force them to be otherwise.

Second, Jesus spoke to the self-righteous, those at the other extreme. The self-righteous will be tempted to disengage from the world because they believe Christ’s return to be very soon. In their mind, the world will be destroyed soon so why bother dealing with anyone who is not “saved”? They have an “us” and “them” mentality and are comfortable with others being destroyed as long they and those they care about are safe. The self-righteous do not obey Christ’s imperative to love our fellow humans and make sacrifices for their well-being. They misunderstand the nature of love and show they have not been transformed by their proximity to Christ. They also do not understand that just as Jesus was sent by the Father, Christians are sent by Christ into the world. Loving our neighbors and bearing witness to the reality of Jesus are not optional activities for believers, because they were not optional activities for God. Therefore, the self-righteous reject the King of kings by refusing to follow in his ways, and God will not force them to be otherwise.

So, Jesus explains to believers who exist in this present evil age, that we should live as if Christ was coming today, but plan like his arrival is far in the future. Living like Christ was coming today means that we strive to take advantage of every opportunity to increase our intimacy with him. It means we desperately pursue him as the source of our life and desire to worship him in all that we think, say, and do. We pursue Christ not out of fear of death but because he pursued us to give us life. We have tasted and seen that he is good, and nothing else will satisfy.

Planning like Christ’s arrival is far in the future means that we do not ignore the plight of our neighbor. We are compelled by love to build authentic relationships with others, especially those who do not yet know Christ. We do so not with ulterior motives, but by the Spirit and with the hope that something of Christ will shine though us to spark something in them. Believers bear witness to the King by offering our neighbors opportunities to experience the kingdom with us. In other words, we participate in the work Jesus is doing to recreate the world.

What Jesus is asking of his followers is nothing new. He plainly said in multiple ways that to experience his salvation, we must love God and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27-28). That is what believers are to be doing no matter the times. We were not told the timing or precise circumstances of Christ’s return because that information does not change anything about what Christians are to be doing. What is different about this passage in Matthew is that Christ is warning us that there are consequences to not doing things his way. While some of the descriptions of the end of this age are scary, the inclusion of consequences should only bother those who commit to disobedience. Those who sincerely strive to love God and love others need feel nothing but excitement at Christ’s Second Coming.

The most important thing about this passage is that Jesus said it in the first place. The only reason to warn someone of danger is to keep any harm from happening to them. This reminds us that Christ is a Savior not a destroyer. He is a Savior, not because he is playing a role; it is who he is. It is part of his essential nature. We cannot be so distracted by our curiosity that we forget who is speaking to us. Think about the love Christ showed for all, the way he stood up for the marginalized and oppressed, and how he did all he could to eliminate suffering. This is the one who is coming back. Think about the compassion of Jesus, the care he took in teaching his disciples, and the intimate love he showed for the Father. This is the one who is coming back. Think about how he boldly defeated evil, how he humbly submitted to the leading of the Spirit, and how he bore every indignity for us. This is the one who is coming back.

We should celebrate the Second Coming of Jesus for many reasons, but primarily because of Jesus himself. He is in every way wonderful, and he is coming back for us! He is in every way beautiful, and he is coming back for us! He is in every way worthy, and he is coming back for us! During Advent, we should continue to make much of the incarnation and personal coming of Christ. However, let us equally celebrate that Jesus is coming back. We have nothing to fear because it is Jesus who is coming. Come, Lord Jesus! Come!

*For help untangling and understanding these topics, I suggest a collection of essays titled “Commentary on the Book of Revelation” on the Grace Communion International website.

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

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November 20 – Proper 29
Luke 23:33-43 “Father, Forgive Them”

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Program Transcript

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

Anthony: Let’s transition on to our next pericope, which is Luke 23:33 – 43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 29, which is on November the 20th.

33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing. 35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.” 36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing. I think it’s impossible to comprehend the magnitude of this statement. All we can do is try to apprehend it. So, I want to give you an opportunity to help us apprehend the reality contained within. What say you?

Stephen: It’s certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging statements in the New Testament, in terms of how it just really hits home. It hits us right in our heart.

And I think when I hear this, I typically think of how Barth understood the doctrine of sin and what even sin is. And I think he got it right when he said that we don’t even know the depth of our sin without first knowing the depth of Christ reconciliation, and that we have to begin with Christ.

And so, what sin is, what it is that we even need forgiven from, we don’t truly know it until we know it in the light of reconciliation. And so, I think Barth uses that to create this beautiful concept — he starts off with the humiliation of the Son of God, that God became humble and became a human being so that the human beings who try to become God see what it is to truly be human and all of these different things.

But I think that just helps us think about this in a different way where we truly don’t know sin. I think we’re very quick to label things in all of this, but I think we don’t know it in the sense where we don’t know the depth of how much it hurts, not only us, how much it hurts our society and the people we love. But how much it grieves God, most of all.

And so not knowing what we’re doing when we do these things is just what it is to be human. But I think we have a sense not only of what those things are, but more importantly, we know them truly as we are forgiven of them. And that’s the beauty of the gospel is that even the things that we don’t know that we’ve done, the sin that we are scarred by is healed and is reconciled in the power of Christ and of his death and resurrection and his life lived on our behalf.

It’s such a mystery as well. I don’t want to ever try to remove the mystery from scripture or from the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Because there is still mystery in this and there is still a sense of awe that we should always have for this.

And I think that’s the first impression that I have, and I would want to impress on everyone listening, is that this is a beautiful phrase, but it’s a terrifying and awe-inspiring phrase. And that we are forgiven in spite of not knowing what we do and the person on the cross with them received this promise of being with them today in paradise and how paradoxical that even feels.

But it really strikes to the core for me of what it is to reconcile to God. It’s not something that we do. It’s purely a gift of grace and how wonderful that is. It just really gets to the heart of how beautiful the gospel can be and how inspiring it is for us. And how challenging as well it can be for us.

Anthony: Yeah. You spoke of the mystery of this beauty. Let’s press in there a little bit more because the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. It just strikes me, isn’t this really the cry for all of humanity, whether we know it or not? And so, where is the hope for that criminal and all the rest of us criminals out here trying to do this thing called life.

Stephen: Yeah, that really hits it on the head. That is all of us. That’s our cry as human beings, that’s what we cry out.

The cross is such a – not only in this passage, in all the other words of Christ and the cross and the witness to that in scripture – is such a beautiful account of this sense of people crying out and having this, “my God, you forsaken me” for example, being one. And that sense of trust, “into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

All of these, I think have a reflection in what it is to be human. And I think it just is such a beautiful portrait of not only who we are, but really the depths of how far Christ went into our humanity and into the darkness of our fallenness and really met us in our rawness, in our in our ignorance and in our sin and in our evil and met us really at the depths of that.

Calvin has a great phrase where “he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.” He truly met us where we are. And yeah, certainly a cry that is mimicked and echoed within humanity.

And I think the remembrance of God is the hope that we have that Christ does hold us in the remembrance. And I think there’s something really beautiful that I was reading recently about how in the Hebrew scriptures, the act of remembrance is such an important priority. Today, we overlook that. We just think, oh, just memory, it’s just something you have. It’s almost an object.

But, for them, remembering an event that took place was almost an act of remixing it and reliving it. And the remembrance of what God had done — particularly like in the Exodus or in other events of God’s acts in history with Israel — remembering it was almost as important as the actual event itself. The beginning of the 10 commandments states that, “I’m the Lord, your God who liberated you from the Egyptian captivity.” And then the commandments come.

And so, there’s this sense where remembrance has more of a power to it than just, oh remember me, remember that I exist factually, remember who I am. But it’s actually this sense of remember me and being revived and being in that remembrance.

And I think there’s a lot more to this than typically gets understood of just oh, remember me in your book, check me off on the list or whatever. The remembrance is this act of recalling and almost to some extent, more vital than just the factual checking of the box for us.

It’s a big source, a great source of hope for us that we will be remembered in Christ and that he not only has our name, one among billions, but that truly remembers who we are and that remembrance brings us back to back to him. And it foreshadows and points to the resurrection that’s the great remembrance that in Christ we are raised again to new life.

And the kingdom that is to come is that kingdom of new life. And yeah, it’s a very pregnant phrase for sure.

Anthony: Yes. Pregnant, indeed. The word even, remember – there’s so much you can unpack there with the resurrection and the way that Jesus and his Father. Remember us in the triune life. What a beautiful thing.

Now you mentioned the statement that Jesus made, why have you forsaken me? And I’d like to scratch that itch just a little bit more, if I may. Anything that you want to say about some of the atonement theories out there?

Just to let you in on some insight on the way I think. Things like punitive theories, like penal substitution, substitutionary atonement, has done a lot of damage in terms of the way that we see the relationship, the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, revealed at the cross.

Anything that you want to say about that?

Stephen: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on this. I think we could derail the whole full show.

But I definitely agree. I think penal substitution to is one of those things that for me, an early joy in discovery for theology was just the reality that’s not the only way of looking at the cross.

And I think tearing down some of those presuppositions that come with it, the idea of God being this angry father and then Jesus just being the nice guy that steps in takes the blow, the whole narrative of that. And so yeah, there’s a lot of ways where that divides the Trinity itself. Like you said, that’s extremely problematic.

I’ll throw a little plug in. I did do a long video series on penal substitution on my YouTube channel. That’s a good, I think, primer into some of these questions and how they can be addressed.

But yeah, I do think, like you said, the [statement] “my God, why you forsaken me?” I think the first way that I understand it is really it proclaims the depth of how far Christ went into our fallen mind, into our fallen situation. And that he truly touched the depths of what it is to feel forsaken.

Now did the father actually forsake the son? I don’t think that’s possible. The father and the Son are one. Even Jesus said a few verses before that everyone else will abandon me, but my father will be with me. And I think that’s confirmed with the word that “into your spirit or into your hands, I commend my spirit,” at the conclusion of that. And yeah, there’s a lot there.

Reflecting back on how it ties back into Psalms 22 – which is what Christ is actually quoting with this phrase – the end of that Psalm, ends in this triumphant realization that God did not abandon, did not forsake his servant; and so, there’s that aspect as well. Taking just that verse by itself without recognizing the context to it, and the fact that he was declaring something that had a very profound meaning to the listeners who would’ve known instantly, oh, I know that song. I know the way that ends and it’s not this hopeless, pitiful situation.

But it truly is one where even in that depth of feeling so god-forsaken, God has entered into that god-forsakenness and made it his own. And in that sense, redeemed it and found us even in that depth where even if I make my bed in hell, you were there.

And so that’s a beautiful insight too. Where even in the most pitiful in the depth of despair that we can find ourselves in, Christ has even penetrated into that depth and met us there and comforted us in that moment and brought us to a new life as a result.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Why do you think God used a temple on a mountain to symbolize the kingdom of God in the book of Isaiah?
  • What are some ways we can testify that Jesus is the end of injustice, corruption, oppression, and every other form of darkness?

From the sermon

  • When thinking about the Second Coming of Christ, have you ever felt confusion or fear?
  • What do you think would happen if people knew the exact time of Christ’s return?
  • What are some ways you would like to live as if Christ was coming today but plan like his arrival is far in the future?

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