|Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,
May 22, 2011 – Easter 5A
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Jesus is the Way
May 22, 2011
Dear Fellow Ministers of the Gospel of Grace,
Grace to you and peace from God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As Lutheran Christians in the Gulf Coast region of Texas and Louisiana, I greet you and thank you for your witness to the love of God for all people, as witnessed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
If there is one thing we share in common with one another as fellow Lutherans, it is our faith that we are justified by grace alone, through faith.
If there is one thing that we share in common with Christians of all denominations around the world, it is our common faith that the Way of Jesus is the only hope for this broken world in which we live. Government is not the hope of the world. Business is not the hope of the world. The Way of Jesus is the hope of the world.
Let’s be clear about this Way of Jesus, what it is and what it isn’t.
If you’re hearing this message on Sunday, May 22, 2011, then apparently you did not get raptured. You have either been left behind, or the end of the world has not come.
Or perhaps you are unaware of the various predictions that the end of the world was going to take place last night, May 21, at precisely 6:00 p.m. complete with a world-wide earthquake.
People have quit their jobs. I listened this week to one woman who had been spending down her life savings so that she would have nothing left on May 21. Another man had sent his 401K balance to one of these End Times preachers. I wonder if that preacher will give it back tomorrow.
How on earth did people come to this conclusion? Numerology. Treating the Bible as a magic book, instead of the revelation of Jesus as the Way.
· The Bible says that judgment day will come seven days after the flood.
· 2nd Peter says that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years.
· So they figured Judgment Day will come precisely 7,000 years after the Flood.
· Now, according to the Bible, the flood began on the 17th day of the second month of the Jewish calendar, which they say is May 21.
· So, if you go back 2000 years to Jesus, then follow the various genealogies in the Bible back another 2,000 years to Abraham, and then another 3,000 years back to Noah, “BOOM!” May 21, 2011 is exactly 7,000 years after the flood.
Did you know, a 2010 Pew Research poll showed that 41% of Americans, (41%!) believe that Jesus will return in the next 39 years!
Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. The end of the world and judgment day will come some day, but isn’t it a little egotistical to assume it’s our generation?
Besides, the most important thing to remember is even if the end of the world is another million years away, you and I are going to meet our maker a heck of a lot sooner. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter when the end of the world is coming. The time to prepare your heart and life is right now.
One End-Time preacher said about May 21, “Believers will be raptured up into the heavens, and the unrepentant will be thrown to the ground in shame. Judgment Day will come, after which there will be no hope.”
No hope? Really? Isn’t the gospel a message of hope?
Jeremiah 29:11 says,
Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
How did we get here, to this place in the American religious scene…
where some preachers wave the Bible as a magic book, with a calendar, encrypted with secret information that only certain people can decode…
where poorly educated peddlers of so-called “Bible prophecy” get a stage, and theologically unprepared lay people are gullible enough to believe it?
Luther found this kind of superstitious nonsense completely unfaithful to the gospel message. I’m sure he’s rolling over in his grave.
Luther is proported to have said, “If the end of the world was coming tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.”
This raises the bar on the importance of having an absolute commitment to teaching the faith to young and old, so that we are preparing theologically astute, Biblically literate, missionally-minded, passionate leaders to lead the present and future church.
It’s not just about Sunday school
It’s not just about youth programs
It’s not just about small groups
It’s not just about Bible study
It’s about preparing people to lead the church of Jesus Christ in a faithful, credible witness to the love of God in Christ.
And how right old Luther was.
Jesus offers us a completely different way of seeing the world. He tells us that the world will end one day, but he says EVEN HE DOESN’T KNOW WHEN.
Would you read these six verses with me?
· Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
· Mark 13:32, “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
· Mt. 24:42, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
· Mt. 24:44, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
· Mt. 25:13, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man comes,”
· Lk. 12:40 “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
· Mark 13:33, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
Jesus does not tell us when the end of the world is coming. He says no one knows. He says even he doesn’t know. He teaches his followers to keep alert, and be prepared, but he does not encourage fear.
Instead, here’s what he does say:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.2In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” – John 14:1-3
Jesus does not tell us when the end of time will be. He says, in effect, “I’m going to prepare a place for you, and take care of everything. Don’t worry about it. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. I’ve got it covered. Trust me.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the overarching conviction of the whole church, in every time and every place, is that Life is found in trusting Jesus. Not trusting numerology. Not believing in the rapture. Not trusting someone’s interpretation of the Bible. Our faith is in Christ, not in some doctrine.
Faith is not assent to an intellectual proposition.
I’ll say it again: Faith is not assent to an intellectual proposition.
Faith is not believing someone’s crazy predictions about the end of the world.
Faith is not putting your faith in a literal-only reading of the Bible.
Faith is not believing this or that doctrine.
Faith is putting your complete trust in Christ.
Faith is putting your life in Christ’s hands.
Luther said, “Faith is trusting in God’s promises.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not put your trust in the government. It will not deliver the goods. Do not put your trust in business, or earthly riches. They will not give you joy. Do not put your trust in your own strength or talent or success. Your strength will fade, and success is for a fleeting moment.
There is only one place to find LIFE. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” Faith is trusting in Jesus’ way of being in the world as my way of being in the world.” We believe that the way of Jesus is the only hope for this messed up world in which we live.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us trust Jesus, and him alone. Trust him with our lives, and our congregations. Teach this to your children and your children’s children, talk about them when you are at home, and when you are away, when you rise and when you sit down.
This year, we are focusing in on children, youth and family ministry. We are a called to be a church that is diligent in passing the faith to the next generation. We are called to equip church leaders for the next generation. Your synod assembly voting members are going to be coming back with plans to turn up the heat on children, youth and family ministry. I ask you to make this a high priority in your congregational planning for the fall, so that the Way of Jesus might be proclaimed with greater joy and vigor to a new generation.
Let’s live our faith. Let’ model our churches’ ministries after Jesus’ life and ministry. And just watch what happens. Faith comes alive when it is put into practice. Those who hear the Word and live it will be like the wise man who built his house upon the rock.
I close with this illustration: Once upon a time there was a great tightrope walker known as The Great Blondin (pronounced “Blahn-deen”). He boasted that he could cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
In 1958 he stretched 1,100 feet of 3-inch diameter rope from Prospect Park, in Niagara Falls, New York, across the Niagara River to Oakes Garden in Ontario, Canada.
And he walked across. It took him 20 minutes.
The crowd cheered loudly, “Blondin! Blondin!”
So Blondin yelled to the crowd: “Do you believe I can push this wheelbarrow across this tightrope over Niagara Falls?”
People: “Yes! We believe!”
Blondin: “Good! Now, who will get into the wheelbarrow?” [Pause for effect.]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, faith is getting into the wheelbarrow. Put your faith in Christ, and in him alone. Trust in him, for he is the way, the truth and the life.