Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 11/17/2019

We’re almost at the end of the church year. Next week is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year and then the following week it’s the First Sunday of Advent and a new church year. What we remember though, is that from beginning to end, the entire church year revolves around Easter and the message of Easter, that message being new life out of death, hope out of despair and brokenness. What we believe is that this is God’s conclusive word to the world, the Word revealed in the person and teaching of Jesus. We believe that as recipients of this word we are changed and because of that that we are called to live differently in response to this word of hope, in response to this gift of grace we’ve been given.

In many and various ways throughout the church year the appointed lessons provide guidance concerning what that response looks like. Usually the guidance is less about specifics and more often about an invitation to think about and reflect on our response, because for everyone the specifics are different. What can be discouraging though, is that sometimes what we’re called to do, especially what Jesus calls us to do, even in general terms, can sound impossible. We had a whole series of readings like that in the late summer and early fall and again a couple of weeks ago on All Saints Sunday with the call to turn the other cheek, love your enemies and give to everyone who begs from you; not an easy assignment, not one that any of us are likely to do successfully.

However, despite that which sounds impossible, there are always things we can do, ways that we can act differently to make an Easter difference even if we do fall short of what Jesus says. Today’s “almost end of the church year” readings provide some end of the year guidance in describing how one can make such a difference and for a change, it is more along the lines of what is possible rather than what is impossible.

I don’t usually start with the Apostle Paul but I am going to start with him today, or maybe I’m not as not everyone is convinced that he wrote the Second Letter to the Thessalonians; there’s general consensus that he wrote the first letter, but some think it’s more likely that one of his followers wrote letter number two. It doesn’t really matter; whether it was Paul or someone else, it still reflects Paul’s thinking.

Things were tough for the church in Thessalonica. Christians were being persecuted and so this letter was written as encouragement in the face of that persecution. It was encouragement to trust that the message of the gospel that had been proclaimed to them would prevail, that the day of the Lord as it was called, would vindicate them. Part of that encouragement was a call to action; it was about the necessity for everyone to be engaged in the mission of the church. To effectively witness to the difference of resurrection life, the difference of life lived as a follower of Jesus, everyone had to contribute; idleness among some of the members was not helping the cause.

Things were tough for the church in Thessalonica but they’re tough for the church in Ishpeming too. We don’t face persecution like they did unless being met with indifference or disinterest is a form of persecution. The need for everyone to be committed and involved is just as urgent though. One of the problems today’s church faces is the fact that we live in a time where people shy away from commitment to anything, commitment to any individual, organization, project or program. In the church we hear about the increasing number of n-o-n-e-s, nones, those who claim no religious affiliation, at least some of whom would say they are spiritual but not religious. A cynic might be tempted to say that what this represents is a lack of commitment, a self-centered unwillingness to commit to any kind of accountability and to avoid being asked to do anything.

The church however, is a group of people who believe that following the model of Jesus, we have been called to do something…together. There is commitment. We are a community gathered to worship and to witness to a world of forgiveness, grace and hospitality. With our commitment, we witness to this alternative way to be and it is just as important now as it was then that everyone contributes in whatever way they can, not just to keep the doors of the building open, but to show others that there is an alternative and that we are committed to that alternative and the possibility it represents. That call to commitment and action then is one bit of make a difference guidance from today’s readings.

Another piece of guidance about making a difference is…be careful what you say; watch your mouth as parents say to kids when in some way they cross the boundary of acceptable speech. The letter to the Thessalonians doesn’t directly address this, but it does talk about idleness and busybodies, which could have to do with those who, rather than making a positive difference with their mode of speech, prefer to criticize others and comment on how bad things are and how they know how to fix it. But then, if actually challenged to do something, they quickly back off, full of excuses.

In the face of such negativity we are called to a different kind of speech and it’s actually hinted at in today’s scary sounding gospel about the destruction of the temple along with war and rumors of war, earthquakes, famine and plagues. In texts like this Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He acknowledges that the world can be a wild and scary place. With that though, he talks about being ready to testify but at that point I’m going to take issue with what he says about being ready. Jesus says not to prepare your defense in advance because, when called to testify, words and wisdom will be provided, words and wisdom that opponents will not be able to withstand or contradict.

In our time, I’m going to say that you should prepare your defense in advance, that you should have words ready when the opportunity to testify presents itself because otherwise, the moment can easily slip away. I’ll bet that many of us have had times when, after the fact, we realize that there was an opportunity to talk about our faith or to invite someone to church but we didn’t have words ready; we hadn’t prepared.

Jesus has given us those words; actually the poetic images of the prophets before him have given us those words. I can’t help but think that as Jesus taught and preached and lived he was channeling words and images like those from today’s Isaiah reading: words and images about new heavens and a new earth, words and images about no more weeping and crying, words and images about building houses and planting vineyards, words and images about the wolf and the lamb feeding together.

All of those words and images are about hope and Jesus was and continues to be an agent of hope. When faced with negative speech about the state of all things, we need to be prepared to watch our mouth and not join in the negativity but instead to speak words of hope about who we are as followers of Jesus. We need to be ready to proclaim that all year long we are Easter people living in the hope of the resurrection, hope that tells us that the images of Isaiah and the kingdom of Jesus are, for us, what is really real so that we refuse to give in to despair and fear.

There is brokenness around us in the affairs of the world, but as year round Easter people we believe that new life comes out of such brokenness. The church is evolving and changing in ways that can make us wonder where it’s all headed, but as year round Easter people, we believe that something new and God pleasing will emerge as we continue to proclaim the good news of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. A third piece of guidance for making a difference then, is to live in hope.

In reality, that’s probably the first piece of guidance and it’s maybe the most difficult but also most important as it’s pretty much a prerequisite for the other two. Because we live in hope and believe in the mission of the church, as year round Easter people we contribute in whatever ways we can and it is important that everyone do their part. Because we live in hope, as year round Easter people all of us need to watch our mouth and be ready to testify to that hope and to encourage others to join us as it is and always will be what the world needs to hear.

Next Sunday one church year ends and the Sunday after that a new church year begins. With that, there will be new ways and new angles from which to approach our hope and the story of our faith. But the message never really changes and what we are called to do as we follow Jesus never really changes either.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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