Friday, November 24, 2006

Last Sunday of the Church Year, Jude 20-25, November 26, 2006

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 26, 2006
St. John’s, Howard
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

You know we are on a journey. Our lives are going somewhere. In fact they are going toward eternity. It’s a journey that we are on, and one of the primary reasons we gather together here every week. But is seems that so often we are focused on today and what we need to get along every day rather then the destination. So every year at the end of November we concentrate on the destination. We think about eternity coming, and how that affects… at least how that should affect our travels in this life. The epistle lesson for today is about just that.

20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 20-25 (ESV)

Imagine you are a pioneer crossing the great plains of America, in a small wagon train. The wagons drone along the prairie making slow progress every day. One day the forward scouts come riding into the group pointing ahead at smoke on the horizon. It’s a great prairie fire raging. It’s moving very quickly fueled by the dry grass and the wind. It’s moving far to rapidly to out run… there is no way around it… in fact there is literally no escape for anyone. Fiery death is approaching and will soon burn everything and everyone.

“There is no time to waste,” the leader of the groups shouts. He knows what to do. “Start a fire behind us, back there.” Some in the group object that the suggestion seems crazy. But there isn’t time and everyone pitches in and follows the instructions. “Quickly,” he urges, “It’s our only chance to survive!” Soon a fire is raging behind, and the situation looks even worse. There is approaching death ahead, and a blazing fire in the only line of retreat. By all appearance you are even more trapped then before.

But as you watch you see the fire behind moving away from you and leaving a burned patch on the ground; a dark smoldering barren area. “As soon as it cools,” shouts the leader get everything on that burnt patch! When the fire gets here it will go around us and we’ll be safe.”

The group act together supporting one another as they moved to the safe area. All the wagons, people and animals huddled together, fearfully watching the approaching firestorm. And just like the your leader said it passes around. Flames and smoke fill the air choking your lungs and terrifying everyone. But everyone stays put in the safety of the area that’s already burned. Between you and certain death is a patch of ground with nothing to burn. The fire can’t get to you. When the danger is over everyone has survived, and the journey can continue toward its goal.

You and I are on a journey. This is our wagon train, and all these people here are our traveling companions. That’s what the Church is all about. Traveling on our journey toward eternity, the Promised Land. Every day that destination gets closer. We are in this trip together. No single person, or family would dare travel the dangerous journey across the Great Plains by themselves. They traveled in numbers for safety and encouragement and strength. That’s what we do here, too. We gather for safety and encouragement and strength.

But it is a dangerous journey. There is fire all around us. Satan is very real and very active. He hates Christians with every fiber of his being. He wants nothing more than for you to leave the safety of the Church where he can drag you into Hell. And there’s more, the world that we want to live in is dangerous to us. It’s easy to get burned out there. So much of what’s around us dries up our faith. What’s worse is there’s nothing we can do about it. Satan is powerful. The world has great influence. The fire burns toward us and we are helpless to do anything. We can’t get away and we can’t put it out.

But Jesus knows what to do. He makes a way to escape. We know how he suffered for us. He suffered our punishment, the fires of hell, in our place. He hung on the cross and suffered God’s burning anger against sin. Satan attacked him. The world hated him. They dished out the worst they had to give and Jesus died. He gave his life for us, to give us a safe place to stand.

You see, the ground that we stand on here, in faith, is protected by Jesus. He gave His life for it. He spilled his blood on it for us. The fires of hell can’t get to us. Satan can’t harm us and the dangers of the world can’t destroy us.

But there all around us is the burning and raging fire waiting, wanting to get to us. Danger and death are there all around us. And the danger is real.

What do the fire look like? Actually we are enticed by it. It speaks to us things we want to hear, things that sound so reasonable. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are true to your beliefs and do your best.” “All religions worship God in their own way.” “There are plenty of ways to get to God, just pick one and be sincere.” “Look within yourself. You are all you need.” Some Christian Pastors are even calling or for “Deeds not Creeds.” But these are all lies. They lead away from the safety of Jesus, the only Way to God, our only protection. They say nothing about Jesus life, death and resurrection; nothing about forgiveness of sins that He won for us. And without Jesus there is no hope and no salvation at all.

There are other things in the flame that we are attracted to. We think we can play in the fire and not get burned. A little sexuality here and there never hurt anyone. You can see it every day in advertising. You hear it every day on the radio and around the coffee table. “Don’t be such a prude. Sex is fun and free. Marriage is old fashioned. People should be allowed to express themselves in any way they desire. Get with the times.” But that too, is a lie. Sex outside of marriage is pure fire that will burn you up. But how tempting it is… but how dangerous.

And in the fire greed calls to us. We want more and more and we’ll do just about anything to achieve our goals. Even stepping on our brothers and sisters to push our way to the top. The desire to have the best and have more than anyone is part of the fire. And the rumor mill is in the fire. It churns up stories about each other that we can’t wait to pass on. And the smoke of laziness that keeps us away from worship and God’s Word.

You see the fire every day, all around us, calling to us, attracting us, and lying to us. It is deadly dangerous. Not just because it’s there but also because we are so easily lured into it. We are so easily burned.

Now look around you at the ground you are standing on. It’s safe ground. But, unlike the burned ground from the story this ground is rich and full of life. In fact it’s full of new life. You see, Jesus already was burned in our place. He died for us but He didn’t stay dead. He rose again to new life. He’s with us here. He causes everything in this safe place to grow and prosper. He takes care of us even while the fire rages all around. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says “your most holy faith.” It’s faith in Jesus and what He has done for you and me. That’s what we are built up by. That’s what we are encouraged by. That’s the faith that we can live by and not be burned.

But we aren’t just standing here either. We are on a journey. We are going somewhere. And that somewhere is a place where there is no fire burning around us. That place is a safe place without the temptations that are all around. That place is the place that Jesus said He has prepared for us. And we don’t have to travel alone. We are on this journey together. Paul tells us to, “Travel together, hold each other accountable, love and care for each other, keep each other away from the flames.”

How do we do that? “By building each other up.” He says. You know how to do that. We do it all the time. Kind words are a great encouragement. Look out for each other. Reach out in care and concern when there is pain and hardship. See what needs to be done and do it. It’s not difficult. In many ways it’s just building on the friendships we already have. But building means to expand. And we also need to expand that circle of friendship beyond where it is right now. We need including other people in our friendships that we wouldn’t normally include. People here in our church and people out there in our community.  People who used to be in our church but have quit coming for one reason or another.  And if you are expecting that it’s just the pastor’s job to do that you’re missing a very good opportunity to share your faith with someone you know.

Secondly Paul tells us to pray. “Pray in the Holy Spirit.” Speak from your heart to God. Keep each other in prayer about all of life’s troubles, but especially about our faith. Pray for those whose church attendance is falling of. Don’t talk to other people about the rumors you hear, pray to God about them. Pray that we’ll keep our eyes on Jesus instead of the fire that is tempting us. Pray that we stand and walk together on this journey.

Finally Paul tells us to hate what is evil and corrupting. “hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” It’s hard to live in the world that promotes so much of what is evil. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just let that go this time.” It’s hard to stand up against evil alone especially when it seems as if everyone is doing it. We need each other. “No, I’m not going to let my children watch that, or do that. Yes, I’m going to do what God says is right instead of listening to the world.” Doing the right thing is always the right thing.

The fire is all around us but we are safe with Jesus. We are protected. He died and rose again for you and me. This journey we are in together is leading to a great and wonderful place that we can only begin to imagine. The journey isn’t easy, but our leader, Jesus, calls to us to keep in His love, in the safe place. As we travel we are to build each other up and pray for one another and hate the evil of the world. You know, this journey won’t last forever, in fact, it will be over soon. When it is we will enjoy the heavenly place that Jesus Christ has prepared for you and me. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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