November 17, 2019

Sermon: Firmly Situated in This World

Sower. Van Gogh

Sermon: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

The Lord be with you.

There is a kind of Christianity that is very world-denying. An old gospel song represents this way of looking at the world:

This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

This kind of Christianity is “other-worldly” — seeing this life and this world as only some kind of necessary and often burdensome preparation for life in a glorious heaven somewhere — kind of like a grueling practice before the real game. And it is often linked with certain views about prophecy and the end of the world. There is a fascination with the second coming and the signs of the times and the events of the end times. Ordinary life in this world pales in comparison with the thrill of imagining all the spectacular and supernatural ways they believe God is going to intervene in this world at the end.

Throughout church history, groups have taken this way of thinking to extremes. One such group was known as the Millerites. A preacher named William Miller in New York state attracted a large following by preaching that Christ was coming back soon. In the early 1840s he preached at hundreds of tent meetings across America and predicted that Jesus would come back between the spring of 1843 and the spring of 1844. Other people began to study the Bible and came up with more precise dates, and large numbers of folks took these prophecies seriously and began to prepare for the end.

The date of October 22, 1844, was eventually understood as the day when Christ would return and the faithful would ascend to heaven. Devoted Millerites stopped working to get ready for the coming event and began selling or giving away their worldly possessions. They even donned white robes as they prepared to ascend to heaven.

Guess what? It didn’t happen, did it? The world went on, life went on, and the Millerites’ other-worldly hopes were dashed.

When we moved from Vermont to Waukegan, Illinois so that I could attend seminary, we were close to a town called Zion, Illinois. The name ought to give you a clue about its history. We visited a church called the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, but only later learned about the city and the church’s background.

The church was directly in the center of town, and all the streets around it, which went north and south or east and west, were named after biblical characters and were organized in alphabetical order. It was like the tabernacle in the Old Testament, where all the tribes were placed around the central sanctuary of the Hebrews in a designated order. The church began in the late 1800s and became famous for teaching that the earth was flat, not round. They also followed many Old Testament laws, including forbidding their members from eating pork. If you visited the town, you could be arrested for smoking, for wearing the wrong clothing, or for whistling on Sunday.

The pastors of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church also predicted specific dates for the end of the world. First it was 1923, then 1927, then 1930 and then 1935.

Guess what? It didn’t happen, did it? The world went on, life went on, and the folks in Zion, Illinois saw their other-worldly hopes dashed time and time again.

Some people are profoundly attracted to these apocalyptic ways of thinking and speculating about the end of the world, the return of Christ, and the final victory of God over evil. In my own Christian experience, the Scofield Bible, teaching about the so-called “rapture,” the Left Behind series of books and movies, and the prophetic teaching of a multitude of televangelists have been and remain very popular.

As Christians, we certainly do believe that God has a future plan and a hope for his people. We confess it every week in the Creed. But there is a danger with becoming preoccupied with these things. They can distract our attention from this world now and what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

God loves the world. And God calls us to love the world, not deny it or turn our back on it. God wants us to live fully in this world and not just see it as a place we’re passing through. God created us to take care of this world and its creatures, to take care of one another, to find beauty and value and significance in our daily lives, in our work, and in all all of our relationships. If what we said last week about the resurrection and God’s plan to transform this creation into a new heavens and new earth is correct, then God wants us to immerse ourselves in this world and in this life, living by faith and doing good works to plant seeds of hope and blessing now that will have an impact for eternity.

This morning we read from 2 Thessalonians, a letter in which Paul talks to a church about many matters related to Christ’s return and the judgment to come. Apparently, people who lived there were intrigued by this teaching, as Paul gave them information and clarification about what they were to expect in waiting for the Lord’s return.

But apparently there were some people who latched on to this teaching and began saying, “Well, if Christ is coming back to judge the world and change everything, why should we go on living and working and doing ordinary things?” The letter says these folks became idle busybodies, disrupting the life of the community, expecting others to take care of them, and causing ill feelings all around.

In today’s passage, Paul talks about people who were living in idleness and failing to follow the example of the apostles, who taught them the importance of daily work and personal responsibility as an essential part of their faith. So he writes to them here, “Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”

In an article he wrote about this passage, John W. Martens wrote: “Perhaps working at being a faithful Christian is less fascinating than idly calculating when the end will come, but part of our vocation as Christians is modeling the good life for others by taking joy in our daily work, engaging in relationships with others and demonstrating our love of God. We should prepare for the end by doing all things in goodness now, by offering people a true sign of the end, when the goodness of God will be all in all.”

It is in the daily practices of faith, hope, and love, trusting Christ and taking care of ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our world that we most faithfully prepare for Jesus’ return and the coming of the new creation. The Christian life is not about denying this world, it is about firmly situating our lives in this world and doing everything we do here and now in the name of Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Now may the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.

Saturday Brunch, November 16, 2019

Hello, friends, and welcome to the weekend.

Semper Dry? A rule change means that male U.S. Marines, who previously had to stand in the rain, can now carry umbrellas while wearing their service or dress uniforms.
(Women have long been afforded a black umbrella — but only in their left hand, to keep their right free for salutes.)

During World War II, Major Digby Tatham-Warter of Britain famously carried an umbrella into battle. Once, he used it to attack an armored vehicle and incapacitate the driver. When a lieutenant later questioned the umbrella’s usefulness in war, the major asked, “Oh my goodness Pat, what if it rains?”

The Democratic presidential field is getting larger. Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick threw his hat into the ring. And Michael Bloomberg, he former New York mayor,  has yet to formally declare a run for president in 2020, but he’s spending $100 million on a digital campaign against President Trump, starting today.

Now, nothing against these two guys…but there are still well over a dozen candidates. We don’t need more to replace the couple that have dropped out. This is a primary, not a sustainable fish farm. Let’s start narrowing down, please.

Just a reminder that this gem exists:

It’s the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road. Dominic Green takes stock: “Abbey Road isn’t the worst of the ten Beatles studio albums; that’ll be the posthumous Let It Be. Nor is it the most overrated (Sgt Pepper) or their most creative (Rubber SoulRevolver or the White Album). It isn’t even the dullest Beatles’ album – the orchestral lashings of Phil Spector can’t mask the lassitude and loathing of Let It Be. It was, however, the last studio album the band recorded, and the biggest selling. By the time it was released in September 1969, the long and winding death of the band had slowed the previously torrential tide of new material. A Beatles-starved public bought it in their droves, and so the album’s 50th anniversary, instead of eliciting a sober chorus of raspberries, has incited one of those delirious outbreaks of cheering that tend to follow the pop critics’ receipt of a well-tempered box-set such as the Abbey Road Anniversary Super Deluxe. In fact, Abbey Road is less a cornerstone of the Beatles’ legend than its tombstone.” 

Ben Hart wanted a vanity license plate. The self-proclaimed atheist wanted to make a religious statement too, which led to the request being denied. This week the Kentucky Supreme court ruled for Hart, arguing that vanity plates are a form of protected speech. So here is Ben with his message:

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Venice flooded this week, with the highest water levels in 50 years. Fortunately, the Italians are known for their plumbers: 

Talk is cheap. Until you hire a lawyer.

Uber got a hefty bill this week. New Jersey has demanded that the company pay $649 million for years of unpaid employment taxes, arguing that Uber drivers were really employees, not independent contractors.

Back in May, three drunk Hoosiers got into a fight. It was the crescendo of an incident brimming with colorful details: the trio drinking the night till 3:00 am,  a failed attempt to visit a strip club called the Red Garter, a brawl in the parking lot of an Indianapolis White Castle. The brawl ended with two of the three getting shot.

Everyone survived, but all three got suspended this week from their jobs…

…as judges.

Judges Andrew Adams, Sabrina Bell and Bradley Jacobs

Free tickets to rapper Kanye West’s Jesus Is King “Sunday Service” concert at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, are being scalped online for hundreds of dollars ahead of the touted event expected to draw “huge crowds” in what is to be the biggest installment of the event yet. I KNOW Chaplain Mike would love to go, so if you can all chip in…

The return of witchcraft: “In 1768, John Wesley expressed concern about the decline of popular belief in witchcraft and the supernatural: ‘The English in general, and indeed most of the men of learning in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives’ fables. I am sorry for it. . . . They well know (whether Christians know it or not) that the giving up of witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible. With my latest breath I will bear testimony against giving up to infidels one great proof of the invisible world; I mean that of witchcraft and apparitions, confirmed by the testimony of all ages.’ Actually, Wesley need not have worried. If Europe’s learned had abandoned witchcraft, and most nations accordingly had stopped prosecuting it, a great many ordinary people retained older ideas. In various forms, witchcraft beliefs persisted in the West until quite modern times. And as Christianity has spread around the world over the past century, it often has done so where such beliefs remain strong, above all in Africa; and where churches of necessity devote significant effort to dealing with such manifestations among the faithful. Witchcraft, surprisingly enough, is a pressing global and theological issue of the twenty-first century.”

At least he won’t have to wait forever. Calvin Hawley of Winnipeg reported damage done to the curb outside his home by a snow removal machine in 1993. Nothing happened. He called the city on and off for years to plead for repairs. At one point, Hawley was told the city’s system for logging complaints had changed and that his was no longer on record. As time passed, the rebar on the curb began to crumble and became more exposed. With the help of neighbors, he placed decorative stones where the chunk of curb used to be.

The final straw came on July 1, 2017.

“I was watching crews merrily drive past the front of my driveway to stop and repair other curbs on the other side of the bay that weren’t as damaged as mine or as old,” Hawley told CBC.

He filed yet another complaint later that day. That’s when he was given his repair date: June 26, 2037.

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Tired of slumming it with your puny 65 inch tv? Ready to stop squinting? Samsung is here to help. This week they announced the release of The Wall (no, not that one, Trump). It is a tv measuring a whopping 219 inches, or about 18 feet

Wasn’t this predicted in Fahrenheit 451?

Benjamin Schreiber Of Des Moines has been serving the life term since being convicted in 1997 of beating a man to death. But what is his life already ended once? Or five times? Does that mean the life sentence is fulfilled and thus now void?

Schreiber says his heart stopped five times on March 30, 2015, at a hospital where he’d been taken from the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. He filed for release in April 2018, on the basis that since he died his life sentence was fulfilled.

The appeals court ruled against him Wednesday, saying: “Schreiber is either alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is dead, in which case this appeal is moot.”

Now word yet on if Schreiber will next try the “Schrödinger’s cat defense”.

Well, that’s it for these Saturday. Have a great weekend, friends.

Another Look: the cruelest month…

Lake Radner, Tenn (2015)

the cruelest month…

t. s. eliot was wrong—it is not april, but november.

it is november that sucks the color out of the world.

it is november that brutally strips the brilliant textured sweater off the tree and leaves it naked, shivering against the gray, cold wind.

it is november, when sky becomes steel, earth becomes stone, grass a wire brush, breath fog, each day a more rapidly drawn shade.

it is november, when time changes, and daytime suddenly drops into darkness before our supper is prepared.

it is november, when baseball ends, gloves are oiled, grass is covered, and stadiums sit silent and empty, too bleak even for ghosts to want to have a catch.

it is november, when the porch is stripped of furniture, the hose and bird bath put up lest they crack, the gutters emptied of fallen sky, a stretch of street with yards forsaken like the dormitory hall at lights out.

it is november, all gray and brown.

it is november, hangover after the harvest party, period of mourning after autumn’s exquisite expiration.

it is november, the time between—between the joy of ingathering and the wonder of incarnation—when darkness gathers, unwilling yet to be dispelled.

the month, of course, has its joys but they are humble — smell of wood smoke rising, tears for the young gone off to war, college football’s rivalry games and the beginning of basketball, a homely and heartwarming feast of thanksgiving, the quiet inauguration of advent and a new year to live within god’s story.

three of the most wonderful women in my life have birthdays in november—my mother, my wife, and my oldest daughter. this november marked the final football game of my young grandson’s junior year in high school — one of the best seasons in school history — and it was so cold that night we were almost relieved to lose. life will move more and more inside closed walls. we’ll begin rehearsing our annual worries about how to keep the heating bill down and what we’re doing for the holidays. the shivering begins.

november is the cruelest month. between time, gray and brown, it sucks the color out of the world.

Yea, I have looked, and seen November there;
The changeless seal of change it seemed to be,
Fair death of things that, living once, were fair;
Bright sign of loneliness too great for me,
Strange image of the dread eternity,
In whose void patience how can these have part,
These outstretched feverish hands, this restless heart?

• William Morris, “November

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