He is Coming in a Cloud!

 

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Meditation on Luke 21:25-36

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Dec. 2, 2018

            25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

***

It’s hard to believe I am finally here, sharing God’s message of hope in Coshocton, Ohio! Thank you for your warm welcome for Jim and me. We have much to learn about our new community of faith—what matters to you.

I have never lived in Ohio or followed OSU football. Please don’t hold that against me. I assure you, and Jim will testify to this truth, that in my years in Florida, I never watched the Gators play! But I did watch the Buckeyes play the Team Up North a week ago Saturday.  “O-H!” (I-O!)

I am looking forward to meeting all of you and hearing your stories. And you will, of course, be hearing some of mine in the years to come. We are already making memories together, with this worship service. Pretty soon, people will tell stories about us!

Jesus told many stories with layers of meaning from his world as he tried to reveal His Kingdom drawing near. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” he says in John 18:36. His is a Kingdom so different than the dark world to which he came in frail, human form to save us from our sins. His Kingdom is so different than the world in which we live today. Friends, if we say that we believe in His coming Kingdom of peace, justice and love, then we must practice and pursue Christ’s peace, justice and love in our daily lives. We must be doers of the Word, as James tells us, and not just hearers only. Amen?

I can’t wait to be here with you! Why is it taking so long? Maybe you are feeling that way, too. It’s hard to be patient. But while I am happy about making my home with you, loving you and guiding you, learning and serving with you and nurturing your faith, I am also struggling with grief, for I must say goodbye to my congregation and family in Florida. It hurts so much.

Our sorrow and grief may leave us vulnerable to fear and doubt. We might begin to question whether we are, indeed, hearing from the Lord and following Him with the decisions we make and the actions we take. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t God’s will! In fact, an argument can be made that if your life has become too easy and comfortable, you may have stopped taking risks for Christ’s sake. You may have stopped listening for God’s voice and responding to His Word. For our lives don’t belong to us—not anymore.

As the Apostle Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

What has helped me, so far, when I feel weak are studying God’s Word, reaching out to my brothers and sisters in Christ for support, and, as my Grandma always used to say, “giving it to the Lord” in prayer.  For the one who is coming in a cloud is also here with us now.  Trust in the Lord—and pray!

On this First Sunday of Advent, our reading carries us ahead, far beyond the miraculous birth of the Christ child to a pious, humble woman named Mary. We are propelled into the chaos and fear-provoking present age. This is not the Scripture we want to read on the first Sunday in December! We don’t want to think about the end of this age! We want to go shopping for Christmas presents, sing Christmas carols and decorate our homes with greens and lights. I want to make Christmas cookies—peanut butter blossoms with Hershey kisses and molasses gingerbread. And sugar cookies, rolled and cut into the shapes of angels, trees, wreathes and bells.

Let’s be honest. We feel comfortable in the here and now, even with the trials, challenges and suffering of this world. We aren’t anxious for Christ’s return. Not really. Not yet! We don’t like the idea that heaven and earth are passing away, as Jesus says. That’s pretty scary stuff to think that the world we know will soon be no more.

But this is God’s Word to us now in this present darkness, as we sometimes wrestle with doubts and fears. This is the Word of hope we need to hear and share with our community of faith and wider community today. This is the Word of hope we need to live more faithfully, according to His will.

As I study this passage, I am reminded of the old saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  Jesus is telling us to see these signs of chaos, destruction and distress in our natural and human world as part of God’s plan for salvation. God is in control! While other people are “fainting from fear” and worrying about what bad thing might happen next, we have the hope of what—or I should say who—is to come!

Luke’s gospel is in sharp contrast to what the world would have us believe. It’s only natural for us to go into the panicked fight or flight mode when we hear about bad things happening and feel we are in danger. Luke is saying that as the world grows increasingly dark, our hope should grow increasingly stronger.

“Stand up and raise your heads,” Jesus says, “because your redemption is drawing near.”

A key point in our message today is to cast out fear! That will only get in the way of our becoming what God has planned for us to be, and the Spirit’s healing and transformative work in us. Don’t be distracted or discouraged by the things of this world, he says. Well, easier said than done, right? Bad news travels fast—especially if you have automatic news alerts on your cell phone. But so does the Good News. Remember, we are called to share our stories and bear witness of the hope and joy of our salvation. As I Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

We are warned against doing what people did to make themselves feel better when they were stressed during the time of Jesus; don’t seek escape through drugs, alcohol or other excesses. When you do this, you squander the gifts, talents and resources God has given you to use for Him! And you waste precious time when you could be receiving the spiritual blessings that come when we labor for the Lord.

The one thing that stands out to me as a particular temptation for us all is at the end of his list—the most prominent position—because Christ knows this is a problem for his followers in every time and place. Do you see it? The worries of this life!  “Be on guard,” he says, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life and that day does not catch you unexpectedly.”

So, what can help us be on guard against the worries and fears of this life? Jesus provides his disciples with an alternative to worry in a more familiar passage, beginning at Matthew 6:25, 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?… 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[l] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I know from personal experience that we can rely on our brothers and sisters in Christ for spiritual and emotional support and encouragement. As Paul says in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Be strengthened by Christ’s Words that will never pass away! God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and light for our path, as the psalmist tells us. “…‘Man shall not live on bread alone,” Jesus says in Matthew 4:4,  “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

I am looking forward to getting to know you and hearing your stories of faith and life in Coshocton. Stay alert! And don’t be afraid! Look around and see not just the bad things that are happening in the earthly realm; ask God to show you the good things He is doing in our midst. Anticipate the good that He will accomplish through His people. Get ready for the good things that God will do in and through you! For the one who is coming in a cloud is with us now! Trust in the Lord—and pray!

 

Let us pray. Holy One, we look forward to your return for your Church and your coming kingdom of peace, justice and love. Thank you that we can trust in Your Word that never passes away. Forgive us for our doubts and fears and for our desire for comfort and ease, rather than taking risks for your sake. Help us, Lord, to practice and pursue your peace, justice and love as a witness to our faith. Heal us, Lord, from our hurts and grief. Guide and keep us in your will. Lead us to draw nearer to one another and to love more and more as we seek to grow closer to you. In Christ we pray. Amen.

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