The text for this sermon is Luke 21:25-36.
A common complaint of modern Christians is that God just doesn’t speak to us like God did back in the bible days. If only we had an angel like Gabriel tapping us on the shoulders to tell us what God wants, we would know what to do. We would react or act appropriately. I don’t buy it. I have never had the angel Gabriel or any other angel hand me a written message from God or spoken one either. Yet, daily I have the opportunity to see and hear messages from God. It is all about listening and trusting.
In our lesson today, Jesus is telling us how to listen for God. You would think that he would say hang out in some beautiful canyon, or climb the highest mountain, or catch a sunset at the beach. No, if you want to hear God, see God, know God, look to what is dying in the world, the places of war, natural calamity, our human relationships, destruction of any kind. It is here God lives. Not because God is the cause of these things, but because God works in the midst of death to bring life.
Jesus tells the disciples when disaster happens, rather than be afraid or grieve the loss, stand up and raise your head for our redemption is near. God is in the death to life business. The fig tree in the winter looks completely dead, but when the first bud arrives in the spring we know God is at work bringing life. If we want to see the work of God, we just need to go to a place where winter is raging, where death seems to have the last word, and wait, because God will show up in that place and bring life. It is all about trusting and listening.
In my office is a picture that a 70 year old retired farmer in my last congregation drew for me. His wife had died after a long illness. It had been a hard six months for him. Even though he was a quiet man, many in the church were worried about his painful grief. He was wandering in a winter that seemed to have no hope for spring.
One morning he went to his shed in his back yard to get a rake. When he opened the door, he was nearly knocked over by a dove that flew out. A white dove, a bird he had seen in the stained glass of his church his entire life but never in his backyard, a symbol of God’s Spirit at work. He received the dove as a sign, a bud of hope in the midst of winter. It wasn’t as if his grief was over instantly. Yet, he trusted that dove as God’s message to him that spring would come. The silent dove spoke the words of God to him, raise your head, your redemption is near. He drew this picture for me the day after this happened.
Sometimes God’s message arrives and we don’t want to hear it. It is not the new life we had envisioned. The changes necessary to live are frightening. One of the churches I worked with in seminary is close to closing their doors now. Death is near as they are worshipping about 25 a Sunday. Fifteen years ago they were worshipping about 100 a Sunday, which was down from about 200 hundred a Sunday fifteen years before that.
Their church was between a good neighborhood and a really bad neighborhood. Over the years their members had come from the good neighborhood and they in real ways, kept their back turned to the bad neighborhood. They even began locking their doors on Sundays, so that the ushers could check the people who came in to make sure they were acceptable. They were afraid because the people from the housing project across the street had come in and stolen purses begged for money or caused drunken scenes.
In the 90’s God sent two messengers, two pastors in a row that wanted to help them find life again. They were buds of spring, hope in the winter of their decline. Both pastors tried to unlock the doors of their church and knock on the doors of the bad neighborhood, inviting them to worship. They organized teachers to offer an afterschool program for the many latch key kids in the bad neighborhood and began a Head Start program in their basement and worked with Lutheran Social Services to fund an onsite counselor to serve the needs of their neighbors.
The message from God seems clear, raise your head, redemption is near. The church refused to listen. Both pastors had short ministries and moved on. The church could not accept the message of salvation God was sending them. They chose death rather than life, because life with the bad neighborhood a part of their church was more frightening for them than dying.
In the midst of death and destruction, buds of hope appear if we have ears to listen, eyes to see. In May of 2011, a tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri. A swath of the town was destroyed and over 200 people killed. In the path of the tornado was Peace Lutheran Church, a vibrant church about our size. It was completely demolished. One week after the storm they were worshipping again in their parking lot, surrounded by the debris of what was left of their church. Today, they are worshipping in a local Presbyterian Church, while their new building is under construction. Trust and be patient. Raise up your heads for redemption is near.
Some are in the midst of winter right now, and see no buds of hope promising spring. For some relationships have broken beyond repair, a death has occurred and the grief is heavy, banks are sending threatening letters, or their employer is talking of closing. If death is all you can see today, then let the person to the left or right in worship this morning have faith for you that God is in the death to life business. Let us hold your head that is too heavy for you to raise up and wait with you as God’s redemption is made clear. God is at work underneath, in between and on top, to heal the gashes in our lives that might be bleeding today, but will become healed scars one day.
In the second century, Rome was intent on destroying Christianity. Christians were rounded up in cities and villages and forced to either worship Caesar or be put to death. Many worshipped Caesar but a sizeable number of Christians refused. These martyrs not only inspired believers, but they made believers out of the Romans who watched them be put to death. Non believers wrote with awe about their courage and faith. As they were being marched to their death for loving Jesus, they began a tradition of singing in unison an early doxology. They stood up in the midst of death, raised their head and trusted redemption is near. Their faith saved a young religion, giving hope to all who were afraid of the death around them. Trust and listen, and sing praises to God.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above the heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.