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Signs

Children's sermon
Illustration
Preaching
Sermon
Worship
For December 2, 2018:
  • Signs by Dean Feldmeyer -- It’s advent! Jesus is coming! But if we expect him to arrive accompanied by the “1812 Overture” we’re going to miss him.
  • Second Thoughts: The Kingdom of God is Near by Mary Austin -- For those watching closely for signs of Jesus’ return, recent hurricanes and forest fires have created plenty of distress for people.
  • Sermon illustrations by Tom Willadsen, Chris Keating, and Ron Love
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on signs of the coming of Christ’s and his presence among us.
  • Paying Attention to What is About to Happen Children’s sermon by Bethany Peerbolte -- Children are pros at getting someone’s attention. Their experience will help bring depth to the importance of paying attention to God’s signs.

Signs
by Dean Feldmeyer
Luke 21:25-36

With this Sunday, the season of Advent, of waiting and watching for the coming messiah, is begun. Jesus is coming to us and his coming is not limited to December 25. It can happen at any time, at any moment. And it is not going to be accompanied by the clanging of church bells and the roar of canon fire.

But neither is the manner of his arrival a total secret. There will be signs.

Signs like subtle changes in “the sun, the moon and the stars.” Signs like shrinking polar ice caps and gradually increasing temperatures, shorter winters and longer summers.

As is always the case with signs, some of us will see them and panic. We will be filled with “fear and foreboding.” Others will dismiss the signs as inconsequential and call them “a hoax.”         

Jesus offers a third option.

In the News
Signs have been much in the news, of late.   

Utgiagvik, Alaska is a whaling community located on the shores of the Artic Ocean. It’s the northernmost city in the United States and serves as a bellwether for those who seek to track trends in weather and climate. Usually, by this time of the year, the “charcoal seas” that surround the little town have been frozen, covered by ice for weeks.

Last year at this time they were just starting to freeze and the ocean wasn’t fully frozen until mid-December.  This year things are on track for a repeat of last year.1

Ask anyone in Utgiagvik and they will tell you without hesitation that something is happening to the climate. It’s getting undeniably warmer every year.

And something…or someone…is causing it to happen.

What’s happening?

The answer to that mystery was published for the world to see last week, on Black Friday, plopped into the middle of a holiday weekend on a day when people are more interested in tracking down holiday bargains, avoiding holiday traffic, and having fun with their families than in reading news stories buried in the middle of the newspaper and pretty much ignored by broadcast media.

Some have said the story was intentionally “buried” in the holiday frivolity so it would be ignored. Buried and hidden in a year that saw “hundreds of Americans die during devastating climate-fueled megafires, hurricanes, floods, and algal blooms.”2

“The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II,”3 a 1,656 page report on the state of global climate change was compiled by more than 1,000 workers from 13 federal agencies and released on Friday and it “presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.”4

The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth.5

The signs are there, boldly attested and precisely documented.

The question is, “What shall we do with them?” Ignore them? Call them a hoax? Offer fake science as a response? Or will we take them seriously and begin the hard work of changing the course of global warming, a course that is already nearly 2/3 of the way to its final state?

How we treat the signs of global climate change may give a hint as to how we will treat other important signs, like signs about the coming of Jesus. Is he coming? How? When? What do the signs say? And what shall we do with or about those signs?

In the Scriptures
This day’s gospel lesson comes from the concluding paragraphs of what biblical scholars refer to as Luke’s Apocalyptic Discourse of Jesus. (Luke 21:5-38)

“Apocalyptic” comes from the word “apocalypse” which means “revelation.” Apocalyptic literature most often claims to communicate a vision received through a revelation, usually from an angel. The apocalypse usually attempts to explain or interpret current events in the light of God’s supernatural world, outside of these events. This is especially true when the current events are dangerous or troubling for people of faith.

In other words, the apocalypse explains what is “really” going on when things seem to be going badly. The focus is on eschatology, the end of the world as we now experience it and the beginning of a new world.  When teaching from apocalyptic literature I often title the study, “Hard Times for Soft Christians: Living Through the End Times and Into the New Times.” Or something like that.

The difficulties which inform Luke’s apocalypse are those which came with the First Jewish Rebellion (66-73C.E.). The Jewish Virtual Library begins its article about this rebellion with these words: “The Jews’ Great Revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. led to one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish life and, in retrospect, might well have been a terrible mistake.”6

That’s putting it mildly.

The revolt began well with two big victories by the Jewish Zealots and Sicarii rebels but Rome was not going to allow that to go unpunished. The Emperor, Nero, sent the General, Vespasian and, later, Titus with three Roman Legions, about 10,000 seasoned, battle hardened veterans to put down the revolt.

The war ended with some 3 million Jews killed or forced into slavery, the massacre at Qumran, the mass suicide at Masada, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

No doubt, these were, for Luke, some of the wars and tumults and international conflicts that would mark the end times. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the consequent destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum on August 24, 79 C.E., was probably on his mind when he spoke of natural disasters that would come at the end time, as well.

In this passage, Jesus declares that when signs such as these become evident the end times would come within a “generation,” a measurement of time that is inexact and nearly impossible to calculate. It could mean the current generation of about 30 years in length, that is, those who are alive now. Or it could mean a generation as defined by some characteristic like suffering or waiting.

Whichever it is, people of faith are not to understand these end times as times of pain and suffering but as times of redemption. These are the times when God’s people will be saved and justified before the world.

As Fred Craddock points out, with this announcement of the coming apocalypse, Luke reminds us that we who are disciples of Jesus Christ have not been placed upon the earth for “the purpose of speculation or of observation but of behavior and relationships.”7 We face the end times not frozen in fear or trepidation but activated by the promise of salvation and hope of justification in Jesus Christ. Enlivened for the work of the gospel and energized in the service to brothers and sisters in the name of God as God comes to us in Jesus Christ.

In the Pulpit
The observations of the best, most dedicated and talented scientists in the United States are before us in “The Fourth National Climate Assessment.” How shall we respond?

WARNING: Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.

WARNING: Cigarettes causes cancer.

The warning signs are clearly printed on the side of the pack of cigarettes.

We can take heed and give a thought to what we are about to do when we purchase the pack. Or we can ignore the warning, chalk it up to the “nanny state” trying to tell us what is good for us. We can point to someone we knew who smoked for 80 years and didn’t get cancer. We can call the whole thing a “hoax.”

Driving down a long and winding mountain road, we see signs that warn us of approaching curves and areas where landslides may be possible. How do we respond? Do we call the signs elaborate hoaxes created by the government for the purpose of spoiling our good time? Or do we take them seriously and slow down?

The warnings don’t leap off the sign and scream at us. They are not accompanied by the 1812 Overture. It’s up to us to be awake and alert so we can see the signs and heed the message, if that is our choice.

The apocalypse is not a once and for all time kind of event. It is happening all around us all the time. The current times are ending and the new times are being born and if we are not observant, looking for the signs we will miss them. Likewise, in this season of Advent, the promise of the coming Christ is played out every day in a thousand different ways. In the shopping mall, on the street corner, in the classroom at school, at the office, or on the assembly line, sitting at the lunch counter or serving someone a sandwich from the other side.

Jesus can appear to us at any moment and, if we are not alert, we’ll miss him.

The one who pronounces us accepted and approved by God, the one who dies so we can live, the one who preaches the triumph of love and kindness and gentleness and peace over the worldly forces of hate and violence and prejudice, that one could be standing right next to us in line, or sitting right next to us on the bus, or walking right next to us on the sidewalk.

Be aware! says the gospel.

Be awake! cries the evangelist.

Look out, read the signs, open your hearts, your minds, your doors, to the Lord of love and, in doing so, usher into your life and the lives of those around you, a season of love as they have never known before. Amen.


1 Maddie Stone, "America’s Northernmost City Is Having Another Dramatic Climate Change Year," msn.com, Nov. 16, 2018


2 Doyle Rice, "Buried? Feds to release major climate report day after Thanksgiving," USA Today, Nov. 21, 2018

3 FOURTH NATIONAL CLIMATE ASSESSMENT, VOL. II

4 Doyle Rice, "Buried? Feds to release major climate report day after Thanksgiving," USA Today, Nov. 21, 2018

5 Ibid.

6 Ancient Jewish History: The Great Revolt (66 - 70 CE) Jewish Virtual Library

7 Luke: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p. 248. By Fred Craddock. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.



SECOND THOUGHTS
The Kingdom of God is Near
by Mary Austin
Luke 21:25-36

For those watching closely for signs of Jesus’ return, recent hurricanes and forest fires have created plenty of distress for people. In California, especially, there is a wealth of fear and foreboding as people await news of loved ones, sleep in cars and shelters, and wonder how to rebuild their lives.  

The huge Camp Fire is now contained, and firefighters continue the search for bodies. “The Camp Fire -- the nation’s deadliest in a century -- was contained within 153,336 acres,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The wildfire, which ignited in a rural area Nov. 8 before consuming the town of Paradise and roaring through nearby communities, has left a staggering toll. At least 85 people have been killed; 249 are listed as missing. Nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes, have been destroyed.” The scope of the human devastation is hard to take in. “Thousands of people packing emergency shelters, hotels and campsites have lives in limbo, uncertain whether they will have communities to return to. The blaze has destroyed more structures than the state’s other seven worst wildfires combined.”

Curiously, Jesus says that disasters, and the feeling of terror, are part of the preparation for his coming. Alongside them, the kingdom of God draws near. That happened on Thanksgiving, as celebrities and first responders mixed together to serve Thanksgiving dinner to some of the 50,000 plus people who have been evacuated and still have no place to go for the holiday. Some are living in tents at a Walmart parking lot. But volunteers, even celebrity chefs like Guy Fieri, have rallied around this community, providing Thanksgiving meals. Among the volunteer servers are firefighters like Jim Irving. He already spent weeks on the fire and will now miss dinner with his own family. “To me this is almost like... I’d rather be here. You know it’s helping other people and that’s part of what Thanksgiving’s about,” he said. Some first responders who lost their own homes continued to work, fighting fires. “Dozens of firefighters, police officers and sheriff’s deputies in Northern California have lost their homes to the massive Camp Fire, officials say, and their numbers are expected to grow. But it has barely stopped the officers from answering the call of duty.” At least 53 fire fighters have lost their homes.

Among them is Leland Ratcliff, captain of the US Forest Service’s Feather River Hotshot crew. “He saw the smoke over Paradise on Thursday and said his intuition told him the fire was on a rapid path to destroy the town. He was able to tell his wife, who took both children out of school before official evacuations began. As the family fled with their dog, cat and important documents, there were already spot fires near their home,” Ratcliff told CNN. Once they were safe, Ratcliff said, he had to make a decision: “Do I go try to save other stuff (from our house) or do I go to try to let people know what was going on?” He chose the latter, evacuating residents from their houses and plucking them from the streets, putting them on forest service vehicles and racing them to points of protection set up by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He said it wasn’t a difficult decision in the moment, but then he realized what things he lost forever in the house he left -- his children’s handprints from kindergarten, and his wedding pictures.” Jesus doesn’t promise an easy coming for his kingdom, and the losses in California remind us of that pain, along with acts of kingdom kindness.

The fire and its devastation give rise to glimpses of the realm of God drawing near. Perhaps that is always the case, in times of fear and loss. Into those places, the presence of God comes through the people who are attending to God’s work.

Frederick Buechner says that waiting for Jesus again is part of the work of building up the realm of God among us. It’s work for all of us, and “to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ’s stead as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is as best we can to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ to them most and to bring them the most we have of Christ’s healing and hope because unless we bring it, it may never be brought at all.” As we wait, we have the opportunity to be part of the kingdom that is drawing near. In our prayers and actions, we can show signs of it to each other.

We can only ever partially prepare for a coming disaster. In Paradise, California, the town had an emergency plan, and practiced it. “People prepared. Fire prevention officials planned. They drilled. They worked with homeowners. They invented fire-safe councils and Fire on the Ridge and sent fire prevention officials to schools via a program called Fire Pals. They raised money to keep fire lookouts open when the state said it wouldn’t. Eventually, geography and topography proved to be the trap everyone thought it was.” In the same way, we can only ever partially prepare for the coming of Jesus. His coming is always beyond our expectations.

There are other, everyday sorrows around us. Everyday someone loses their job, or gets a diagnosis of cancer. Everyday, someone runs out of money for a stack of bills, or faces mental illness. Everyday someone loses a loved one to death, or faces the loss of their home. We can look for the kingdom of God to draw near there, too. Perhaps it can be seen in our attentiveness, in our acts of kindness, in our hospitality.

The sorrow all around us recalls us to the Advent work of watching for the kingdom of God to draw near. Jesus reminds us that there is a deeper, wider, more encompassing reality than our losses and pain. These seasons of upheaval are also seasons when God is revealed. We can stand up, lift up our heads, and wait for Jesus to come into those places of pain. The redemption of our pain is drawing near.



ILLUSTRATIONS

From team member Tom Willadsen:

Psalm 25:1-2
There is simple, yet effective enacted prayer that goes with the start of Psalm 25. Have the congregation stand, if they are able, and spread out. [I’ve used this as a Children’s Time also.)  (This may mean people inching away from their beloved pew, so be gentle. Still, it’s best to have space between the people for this prayer.)

Have them point their elbows out to their sides and have their middle fingers touching in front of their chests.

As the reader says, “To you” ask them to straighten their right arm to the side.

As the reader says, “O Lord,” ask them to straighten their left arm to their side.

As the reader says, “I lift up my soul” ask them to bring their arms over their heads, as high as they can reach and have their fingers meet. Have the worshipers look straight up. This will tie into Jesus’ command in Luke 21:28 to “stand up and raise your heads.”

As the reader says, “O my God” ask them to bring their arms down slowly to return to how they started with their fingertips meeting in front of their chest.

Do this slowly, twice, with the reader reading only these words: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul, O my God.”

Then invite the worshipers to close their eyes and do the motions in silence.

This can work as a call to worship, or as a reading of the text. It’s simple, but really helps worshipers feel and enter the word.

* * *

Waiting
It’s the first Sunday of Advent. It’s a season of preparation, of readiness, not counting down. I’m 54 years old. When I was younger people talked about how many shopping days there are until Christmas. I’m so old I remember getting into a car, driving to a store, getting out of the car, and paying actual cash for my purchases that I handed to a human being. One doesn’t hear about shopping days so much anymore. “Shopping Days” was a proxy for counting the days until Christmas. And how many days one had to get the decorating, baking, and Christmas cards addressed. (know, “retro.”) But all of these had a way of getting oneself ready for Christmas. Advent is for a different kind of waiting. The psalm reads “Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame.” (NRSV v. 3a)

Who’s waiting? And what are they waiting for? What are Christians waiting/getting ready for in Advent?

* * *

What are we waiting for?
Jeremiah reminded those in exile that “the days are surely coming” when the promises made to Judah and Israel would be fulfilled. Jeremiah looked back to their great king, David. Years before, Jeremiah had fiercely warned them that their belief that they were secure as long as the Temple stood was wrongheaded -- calling them “deceptive words.” He was right, their stone insurance policy, sign of God’s favor, was destroyed by the Babylonians. So they’re up in Babylon, waiting, waiting. God promised to save Judah and that Jerusalem would live in safety. That’s a whole lot different form waiting to open presents on December 25th.

* * *

Wars and rumors of wars
Jesus, when exactly will there not be a time with wars and rumors of wars? And aren’t we forbidden from looking into the sky for signs and omens? Leviticus 19:26 and Deuteronomy 18:9-14 group “augury and witchcraft” and consulting soothsayers and sorcerers among abhorrent practices of the nations that occupied what the Israelites journeyed toward, the Promised Land. Hmm.

Looking ahead, now look at Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. It was “magi” or “sorcerers” who identified something in the night sky that signaled the birth of the King of the Jews. The sign, whatever it was, was in a place where the Jews were forbidden from looking for signs! The sign was only for experts in a practice that was only acceptable for non-Jews to practice.

Now, at the start of Advent, Jesus is telling his disciples to look for signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, among other places, in the month during Advent.

* * *

Don’t have to be a weatherman…
Bob Dylan famously sang, “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.” (Subterranean Homesick Blues) Jesus is telling his disciples the same thing, they don’t need to be experts to read the signs of the times, signs that the Son of Man was coming in great power.

NB. The Weather Underground, a violent offshoot from Students for a Democratic Society took their name from the above lyric.

* * *

Don’t have to be an arborist…
At another level, how helpful is it to see fig trees getting leaves as a sign? It happens every spring. That’s not much of a tip off?

* * *

Two kinds of waiting…
Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992 promising to build a bridge to the 21st century. It sounded great, even auspicious, but wasn’t the 21st century going to arrive in 9 years whether he led the bridge building or not? (I did the math, and the 21st century didn’t start until 2001.)

It seems to me there are two kinds of waiting: active and passive. Active waiting is what six year olds do as Christmas approaches. Passive waiting is, “no matter what I do, Christmas will arrive on December 25.”

As Christians we believe that Christ will come again. Many congregations say those very words every time they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Our waiting, however, is passive; He’ll get here when he gets here. Aren’t Jesus and Paul, to the Thessalonians, urging active waiting?

Perhaps it’s a difference between waiting and anticipating. When anticipating we pay close attention, and suspense builds … Something’s coming … it will be here any minute…tension, anticipating builds … then we see what we’ve been waiting for and still we jump in surprise! It’s as though we are spring-loaded when we are waiting actively or anticipating. Modern Americans don’t do much of this kind of waiting. How does the preacher lead them into seeing the difference?

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Chris Keating

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Signs of hope   
There’s not much left to Paradise right now. The small town in northern California was ravaged by November’s deadly Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history. The blaze consumed more than 18,000 structures, including most of Paradise -- a town city leaders describe as a “fantastic place to raise a family, build a business, or just relax for a weekend in the pines.”

The fire consumed buildings and claimed lives, but signs of hope are emerging in its cooling embers. As the fire grew, resident Greg Kidder scrambled to develop evacuation and safety plans for students, staff and parishioners of St. Thomas More Catholic church. Kidder, physical plant supervisor for the church and school, oversaw a plan of evacuation for more than 220 students and families.

Eventually it was his turn to flee. Despite the terror, Kidder observed signs of hope. The main roadways out of town were clogged with evacuees. But Kidder and his wife were also moved by the way “people came together and watched out for each other.” 

The family found shelter in nearby Chico, CA, having fled with the clothes on their backs. Their faith resembles the steadfast promise of hope echoed by Jeremiah.

Kidder told reporters that he thanks God “that my wife and I were together so we didn’t have to try to find each other. That was my joy: We went through this whole ordeal together.” Yvonne Kidder shared her experience with local Catholics. “We put our trust in Christ,” she told the congregation. “We are people of hope and faith, and that is what we hold on to.”

* * *

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Increase in love -- yep, there’s an app for that!
It’s a reflexive axiom -- holidays and stress go together like mistletoe and kisses. Families are complicated in the best of times, and special occasions can sometimes stretch the ties that bind. But perhaps Paul’s words to the Thessalonians might offer ways of de-stressing so that we could indeed “increase and abound in love for one another.”

One survey found that more women than men experience stress at the holiday season, perhaps because of traditionally defined roles. It showed that nearly 72 percent of women experience some form of holiday stress, compared to just 60 percent of guys. C’mon, men, it’s time to do our part!

An article in Bustle previews nine smartphone apps that can assist in reducing stress. Their suggestions aren’t terribly exotic, and include apps for ordering groceries and picking out invitations to booking travel and playing games. But they could prove helpful in decreasing the amount of stress so that families can indeed “increase in love.” Maybe Joseph should have tried Booking.com!

* * *

Luke 21:25-36
Signs in the sun, moon and stars
President Trump hasn’t read his own administration’s conclusions about climate change. Indeed, he’s not a bit alarmed by the recently released National Climate Assessment. While implying that he sees a human influence, the president said he believes things will take care of themselves.

"Is there climate change?,” The president said. “Yeah. Will it go back like this?" Trump said, as he gestured with up and down movements of his right hand. “I mean, will it change back? Probably, that's what I think. I believe ... man and women, we do have an impact, but I don't believe the impact is nearly what some say, and other scientists that dispute those findings very strongly."

But just as Jesus pointed to the fig tree, the signs are present and ignoring them could bring dire consequences. Consider the data from NASA:
  • The planet’s average surface temperature has risen 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, but most of the warming has occurred since 2010. Eight of the past twelve months were the warmest on record for those months.
  • The Antarctic ice-sheet is melting at a rate tripling in the last decade.
  • Glaciers across the globe are retreating, and the amount of spring snow cover has decreased over the past fifty years.
  • Globally, the sea level has risen eight inches over the last century, but the rate in the past two decades is nearly double that of the last century.
* * * * * * * * *

From team member Ron Love:

Jeremiah 33:16; Psalm 25:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:10
Salvation / Seeking / Faith
Francis Thompson lived a deeply troubled life. As a frail, shy, introverted child, he suffered from depression. He was born into a well-to-do English family. Opportunities for higher education were afforded him. He had studied to be a priest, but never finished. He studied medicine, but flunked out of medical school. He joined the military, but was let go after one day. Eventually he became an opium addict. This life resulted in poverty and homelessness on the streets of London.

But Thompson couldn’t escape his desire to write poetry. In the midst of his despair, someone who recognized his poetic gifts, befriended and helped him write his experiences in verse.

In 1887, Thompson sent his poem to Wilfrid Meynell, editor of a Catholic literary magazine titled Merry England. Meynell realized the poetic genius in Thompson and called him “a poet of high thinking, of ‘celestial vision,’ and of imaginings that found literary images of answering splendour.”

Meynell published the poem and helped Thompson financially, mentoring him in coping with daily life and helping him to battle his drug addiction. While Meynell and other friends cared for Thompson during the remaining years of his life, he never fully recovered from his life on the streets and died in 1907 of tuberculosis.

The 182-line poem that Meynell published in 1893 was titled The Hound of Heaven. Noted for its vivid imagery, Thompson shares his own personal story in these poetic verses.

The poem borrows language from the British hunt called Hare Coursing. Hare Coursing is the pursuit of hares by two dogs, predominantly greyhounds. The poem is a powerful narrative of God’s steady and uncompromising pursuit of Thompson. Although the poet flees, God remains unhurried and unperturbed until finally the pursued understands that this is the true love of a determined God.

The poem is based on Psalm 119:65-72. In these verses the psalmist is reviewing his life and sees a person who disobeyed God’s word. The psalmist understands that God afflicted him for a good purpose and, in doing so, took him from disobedience to obedience. God broke him down and brought him to his knees in order to draw him to his creator in faith and trust.

The title “The Hound of Heaven” is used as a reference to God; but, the words “The Hound of Heaven” never appear in the poem. Over the years “The Hound of Heaven” has come into popular use as a descriptive of God. The “Hound of Heaven” typifies an important characteristic of our God: He seeks us! He hunts us! He wants us!

The poem closes with this verse:

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
’Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’


***

Jeremiah 33:16; Psalm 25:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:10
Salvation / Seeking / Faith
Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, was always fearful of the state of his soul, fearing it to be condemned to hell for his lack of obedience to the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. No matter how dedicated he was to the required offices of being both a priest and a monk, he feared that salvation had always escaped him, and at best he would be assigned to purgatory upon his death.

To amend his sins, he made a pilgrimage to Rome. In the Holy City he embarked upon every ritual of redemption sanctioned by the Vatican. One such appointment was climbing Pilate’s stairs, 28 marble steps, on hands and knees, kissing each one while reciting the Pater Noster, which is Latin name for our Lord’s Prayer. Each one of the 28 marble steps acted as an indulgence that would lessen one’s time in purgatory.

Luther elected not to engage in this exercise for himself, but for another. Luther directed that his indulgences be for Grandpa Heine, so that his time spent in purgatory would be lessened.

Having completed the legalistic ritual, at the top of the steps Luther raised himself to his feet and in the disillusionment of what he had just done exclaimed, “Who knows whether it is so?”

It is a question of who could possibly know if this made any difference in releasing a soul from purgatory. Luther further doubted that kneeling on 28 marble steps could be an effective method for personal forgiveness. One may have a feeling of self-righteousness for completing such a grueling task, but did it really refresh the soul, Luther questioned?

For we know that forgiveness comes only through a confession of faith. This is why climbing Pilate’s stairs was one of Luther’s final acts before declaring the Protestant theological doctrine of justification by faith alone, coupled with the denouncement of the Roman Catholic view of works-righteousness.

Justification by faith alone, in Latin sola fide, is one of the five solae that has become the theological foundation of Protestantism.

* * *

Jeremiah 33:16; Psalm 25:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:10
Salvation / Seeking / Faith
The Westminster Confession of Faith is a Reformed confession of faith. It was adopted in 1646 at the Westminster Assembly and became the standard confession of the Church of England. Regarding justification by faith alone the creed states, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”

* * *

Jeremiah 33:16; Psalm 25:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:10
Salvation / Seeking / Faith
H. G. Wells published Secret Places of the Heart in 1922. This autobiographical novel features Sir Richmond Hardy, an English gentleman, who is having marital problems and traveling the countryside. In one episode in the book, he is having a conversation with his friend, Dr. Martineau, a doctor who specializes in mental health issues, or as the novel puts it, “nervous and mental cases.”

The doctor informs his patient that the only thing that could save him was to find the peace and fellowship which only God can provide. During this conversation, Sir Richmond vehemently rejects the idea of a personal God. He can accept the idea of a force of righteousness in the universe, but he can’t envision it as merciful, warm, or friendly. He calls it a “dream” and a “delusion” to think humans can get close to what we call God.

Sir Richmond says with astonishment, “What! To think of that, up there, having fellowship with me! I would as soon think of cooling my throat with the Milky Way or shaking hands with the stars!”

* * *

Jeremiah 33:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:13
Justice / Righteousness / Holiness
Many people are familiar with the name of Rosa Parks and identify her with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But how many of us really know what took place on December 1, 1955 on the Cleveland Avenue bus. Rosa was a tailor’s assistant. Exhausted from a day’s work, she went as usual to Court Square to catch the evening bus home. When she boarded, Rosa went to the rear of the bus where people of her color were expected to sit. As more white passengers got on at each stop, they began to sit in available sets toward the rear. Rosa knew that soon she and all the blacks were going to have to stand so the whites could sit. It happened at the Empire Theater. A number of whites got on and one man was left standing.

Rosa refused to get up. The bus driver came back, and using foul language he ordered her to relinquish her seat or be arrested. Still, Rosa refused to move. Two policemen then boarded the bus, arrested Rosa, and took her to jail.

Years later when Rosa was asked in an interview why she refused to get up, she replied that as a small child her mother taught her to have faith and courage. Then Rosa went on to say, “I was brought up to believe in freedom and equality and that God designs all of His children to be free.”

* * *

Jeremiah 33:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:13
Justice / Righteousness / Holiness
Everyone in the village believed Pendle Hill was haunted by demons. In 1652 George Fox courageously walked up that hill to exorcise Satan, calling upon the saints in the name of Christ.

While in prayer, a vision appeared before Fox which he described as “a people in white raiment, coming to the Lord.” The vision signified that proclaiming Christ’s power over Satan would gather people to the kingdom of God.

And it did. By 1660 Fox had 50,000 followers. At first they called themselves “children of the light,” “publishers of Truth,” or “the camp of the Lord.” Gradually they came to prefer the term “Friends,” in accordance with Jesus’ words recorded in John 15:14: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Today the group is often referred to as the “Quakers.”

* * *

Jeremiah 33:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:13
Justice / Righteousness / Holiness
Frederick Douglass approached the front door of the White House, seeking admission into Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural Ball. Just as Douglass was about to knock on the door, two policemen seized him, barring the black man’s entrance. Douglass, a large, powerful man, brushed the officers aside and stepped into the foyer. Once inside, two more officers grabbed the uninvited guest, all the while uttering racial maledictions.

As Douglass was being dragged from the hall, he cried to a nearby patron, “Just say to Mr. Lincoln that Fred Douglass is at the door!” Confusion ensued. Then suddenly the officers received orders to usher Douglass into the East Room.

In that beautiful room, the great abolitionist stood in the presence of the esteemed President. The place quieted as Lincoln approached his newly arrived guest, hand outstretched in greeting, and speaking in a voice loud enough so none could mistake his intent, the President announced, “Here comes my friend Douglass.”

* * *

Luke 21
Discipleship / Evangelism / Worship / Salvation
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was preaching atop a box at a London street corner. A woman came up and criticized him for his street corner preaching. His reply, “I like my way of doing it more than your way of not doing it.”

* * *

Jeremiah 33:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:13
Justice / Righteousness / Holiness
Matthew Fox is an Episcopal Priest. He is active in developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality, which is rooted in ancient Judeo-Christian teaching, inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions; welcoming of the arts and artists; wisdom centered, prophetic, and committed to eco-justice, social justice and gender justice.

One of the thirty-five books he has written is titled A Spirituality Named Compassion which was published in 1979. In one section of the book he discusses that we live in a hierarchical society which is an exclusive society. He promoted that we live in an inclusive society, absent of social stratum.

According to Fox we live in a hierarchical society. A society that is climbing Jacob’s ladder to reach God. A ladder looks at life as up/down. A ladder is competitive, for only one person can be at the top and only a few people can be on the ladder at any one time. A ladder is not stable, for if it gets too heavy at the top it will fall over. A ladder is ruthless, as those above are stepping on the hands of those below. A ladder is conniving, as those below are always pushing to be the ones on top. When climbing a ladder a person’s hands are occupied with one’s own precarious survival and cannot readily be extended to assist others. A ladder is restrictive because the weak, the disabled, the handicapped, the aged, the mentally retarded are unable to climb. A ladder favors men over women, adults over children, wealth over poverty, education over unskilled labor.  

A ladder society needs to be replaced by a society that dances in Sarah’s circle. Sarah, on the birth of her son, laughed and danced, and all who were near laughed and danced with her. A circle is in/out. A circle formed by holding hands is strong, yet gentle. A circle is intrinsically non-violent; gathered fact-to-face you can see both the smiles and the tears of others. A circle allows mutual interdependence, as one’s hands are free to be extended in the assistance of another. A circle is inclusive because everyone can participate: the weak, the disabled, the handicapped, the aged, the mentally retarded, both men and women, both adults and children, both the rich and the poor, both the educated and the unskilled laborer can all be equally involved in a circle.

* * *

Jeremiah 33:16; Psalm 25:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:10
Salvation / Seeking / Faith
John Chrysostom (347-407) was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the 4th and 5th centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek chrysostomos, “golden mouthed,” because of his exceptional oratory skills.  The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint, and count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. In a sermon on salvation he preached:

No expression could be more authoritative or more emphatic. His death, he says, killed the enmity, wounded and destroyed it. He did not give the task to another. And he not only did the work but suffered for it. He did not say that he dissolved it; he did not say that he put an end to it, but he used the much more forceful expression: He killed! This shows that it need not ever rise again. How then does it rise again? From our great wickedness. So long as we remain in the body of Christ, so long as we are one with him it does not rise again but lies dead.



WORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: Lead us in your truth, and teach us, O God of our salvation.
People: Be mindful of your mercy and of your steadfast love.
Leader: Good and upright is our God.
People: Therefore God instructs sinners in the way.
Leader: God leads the humble in what is right.
People: All the paths of God are steadfast love and faithfulness.

OR

Leader: Let us bless our God who comes among us.
People: We praise God who comes to save all creation.
Leader: The signs of God’s coming are all around us, if we be see.
People: We shall look for God’s presence this day.
Leader: God comes to heal us and through us to heal others.
People: We will open our lives so that we may heal and be healed.

Hymns and Songs:
People, Look East
UMH: 202
PH: 12
CH: 142
ELA: 248
W&P: 161
STLT 226

All Earth Is Waiting
UMH: 210
NCH: 212
CH: 139
ELA: 266
W&P: 163 

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
UMH: 196
H82: 66
PH: 1/2
NCH: 122
LBW: 30
ELA: 254
W&P: 153
AMEC: 103

Love, Came Down at Christmas (If carols are begun early)
UMH: 242
H82: 84
NCH: 165
W&P: 210

I Sing the Almighty Power of God
UMH: 152
H82: 398
PH: 288
NCH: 12
W&P: 31
Renew: 54

Word of God, Come Down to Earth
UMH: 182
H82: 633
ELA: 510

O God of Every Nation
UMH: 435
H82: 607
PH: 289
CH: 680
LBW: 416
ELA: 713
W&P: 626

We Meet You, O Christ
UMH: 257
PH: 311
CH: 183
W&P: 616 

Arise, Shine
CCB: 2
Renew: 123

Open Our Eyes, Lord
CCB: 77
Renew: 91

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who comes among us to save us:
Grant us the grace to see the signs of your coming
and to participate in your saving works;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, for coming to dwell among us and bring us salvation. Open our eyes to the signs of your coming among us. Strengthen us in your Spirit so that we may participate in all your saving works. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to see our Christ coming among us.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have focused our lives on the things of this world and we have missed the signs of your coming. Whether it is the earth itself or our sisters and brothers, we have been blind to your presence in their needs. Help us to see you in those around us that we may be part of your salvation for all creation. Amen.

Leader: God does come to save us; all of us. Open your lives to God’s presence and be healed.

Prayers of the People
We sing your praises, O God, for you are the One who comes among us to save us.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have focused our lives on the things of this world and we have missed the signs of your coming. Whether it is the earth itself or our sisters and brothers, we have been blind to your presence in their needs. Help us to see you in those around us that we may be part of your salvation for all creation.

We give you thanks for all the signs of your saving grace. We thank you for those who have been your saving presence for us.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those you have sent our way for healing that we have missed. We pray for those you send to be healers in our world.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Bring in pictures of signs the children might be familiar with. Perhaps road signs that show curves, a stop sign, bathroom signs. Talk about how the signs help us know what is coming. God also sends us signs that God is with us. We see God among us in other people. In people who help us and people who need our help.



CHILDREN’S SERMON
Paying Attention to What is About to Happen
by Bethany Peerbolte
Luke 21:25-36

The lesson from Luke this week speaks about signs and taking note of them. Essentially how God is going to get our attention that something big is about to happen. Children are pros at getting someone’s attention. Their experience will help bring depth to the importance of paying attention to God’s signs and paying attention to what is about to happen.

Say something like:
Who likes to see movies? (wait for hands to be raised) Movies are tons of fun and there are always new ones coming out to see. How do we find out about new movies? (allow a few kids to answer: trailers, commercials, print ads, tv ads, etc.) The movie companies are very good at getting our attention. They advertise with big ads and trailers. They put those ads and trailers in places where people will see them, and they play them over and over. It is hard to miss the announcement that a new movie is coming out. Movie companies are really good at getting our attention.

I wonder what you do to get the attention of your parents. If you wanted them to see something what might you do? (allow kids to answer: jump, yell name, tug, “watch this, watch this,”) Those are all great ways to get someone’s attention. There are all sorts of reasons we might use these signs to get someone’s attention. We might signal for someone’s attention because there is something cool we want them to see. Other times we might see something dangerous and want to signal others to be careful.

In Luke today we are learning that God wants our attention too. God even tells us what to look for, what God’s signals will be. That is helpful right? Just like we know how movie companies will tell us about new movies, God tells us what to look for when God wants us to pay attention.

When God signals for our attention God wants us to pay attention because there are really cool things to see and things that can be dangerous if we ignore them. (insert your own story about how your parents got your attention when you were in danger) (e.g. When I was your age and my parents saw I was in danger they would yell out my full name “BETHANY FAYE PEERBOLTE.” They taught me if they did that I was supposed to freeze, and they would come help.) When we are in danger we probably won’t hear God yell out our name (insert your parental signal) but God will give us a sign. It is important that we take note of those signs and not miss the warning.

We sometimes hear stories about fires or hurricanes or other scary things happening around the world. Scientists tell us that those are signs that our planet is hurting and needs help. In our Luke passages God says the same thing! That natural disasters are one of God’s signs that something needs to be done. When we hear about things happening or maybe have a bad storm here it’s okay to feel scared. I always felt scared at first when my parents yelled my name (insert your parental signal) but I knew what to do --freeze -- and I knew they were coming to help me. God says when we see the signs we shouldn’t panic but pay attention to what needs to be done. And we should always know that God is helping us heal the world.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, December 2, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.

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