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Refugee Camp

#Advent16 — The Olivet Discourse

A Reading from the Gospel According to Matthew:

“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

“The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

“The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have bene there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”

Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Today’s Advent reading has us looking beyond the manger, past the cross, beyond the Ascension and even beyond today. It has us looking for the King to return in fullness. It takes us to the top of the Mount of Olives into one of Jesus’ most often quoted (and most often misunderstood) discourses—The Olivet Discourse.

Let’s begin here: The Olivet Discourse was not given for us to speculate about who is in and who is out, or about dates and times, or even to scare us into living right. Jesus’ purpose in this discourse is to encourage His Followers that even in the midst of the ugliness and mess of the world (after all, He is largely predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and ultimately Israel as they knew it), He is still the King. Further, He seeks to use this encouragement for us to live our lives to bring His Kingdom even in the middle of these messes and uglinesses. He challenges us to align our lives with Him and His Kingdom. So that when He returns in the fulfillment of His Kingdom, we will see it and know it and embrace it.

When we read these “end-times” passages in the scriptures, it is important that we remember four key points as we read.

First, Jesus wins. He is the King. He is the One whose coming was foretold from the beginning of time itself. He is the one who sets all things right. He is the One who will return to bring heaven (in all of it’s splendor and glory) to earth.

Second, suffering and pain are still present in the world. Jesus came to set all things right, but not all things are yet set right. We, as His followers, are called to continue this partner with Him i this work of setting things right. Yet, because not all things are set right, there is still pain. There is still suffering. Death still happens. Divorces still occur. Far too many children still get cancer. Too many elderly people face dementia. These things still happen.

Let me pause here. I will be the first to admit that I have no good answers to the problem of suffering. I don’t.

Refugee Camp

Refugee Camp

I live in a land where there are more than 3 million people who have fled their own homeland due to war and violence. I see them in town begging for bread. I seem them on the bow of the coast guard boats that enter the harbor below our front window after they’ve been rescued from the cold waters where their makeshift boats sank as they sought a new and better life in Europe.

I don’t know why a friend has to watch as his parents suffer with dementia.

I have no explanation for why dear friends had to sit helplessly through surgery after surgery and then ultimately bury their five-year-old son.

I struggle to understand cancer.

I don’t have answers for these questions.

But, here’s what I do know. We are called to do something about pain and suffering. We are called to cry with those who are crying. We’re not called to offer up hollow platitudes about “God being in charge” or “God wanting another angel.” We’re called to suffer with those who suffer. To cry with those who cry. To listen to those who need to yell and scream and cuss. To sit silently and hold a hand. To mourn with those who mourn.

Suffering and pain are as real today as they were when Jesus sat on that mountain and delivered the discourse from which today’s text is drawn. I don’t know why he didn’t heal every sick person that crossed his path. But, I do know that when his friend Lazarus was in the grave, before he raised him from the dead, Jesus stood alongside his friends and neighbors and wept.

Third, evil is real. Even though Christ has come. Even though the Kingdom has begun. Even though for two thousand years men and women have worked tirelessly to bring more and more of the Kingdom to bear. Evil still exists. Evil is still a reality with which we must deal.

Fourth, we must struggle against evil. We are called to stand in opposition to the things that are not as they should be. We stand in opposition to people being mistreated—even if it is by their own government. When children go to bed hungry, we stand in opposition by bringing food. When cities are overran by evil people, we do all we can to share the overwhelming love of Jesus—even at the risk of our own life.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

And, that is what Kingdom people have done for centuries.

When the ancient Romans used the horrible practice of exposure as a means of birth control, it was the Kingdom people who took these unwanted babies and gave them new life.

When a lady was told to change seats in a bus simply because of her skin color, it was the Kingdom people who peacefully protested until she was allowed to sit wherever she wanted.

When young girls and boys are kidnapped and sold for sex, it is the Kingdom people who find them and rescue them.

When poor people were left out in the streets to die alone, it was Kingdom people who took them in and cleaned them and nursed them and loved them and then buried them.

When millions were being taken away from their homes and interned in camps, it was Kingdom people who hid them from the authorities.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

We work to bring the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed into its fulfillment. Knowing that there will come a day, when Jesus will return and say “Well done, you good and faithful servant” to those who have feed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless, and spent time with the widow, and fathered the orphan.

#Advent13: Boat Building

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

 “But concerning that day and hour now one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

— Matthew 24:36-44 (ESV)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Noah built a boat–“a floating zoo” as the Irish Rovers referred to it.  All the while he was building, his neighbors watched and wondered what exactly it was that Noah was going on about.

Night and day, Noah built.

Hammering.

Sawing.

Until one day, he looks at his boat.  Ponders a name.  Settles on USS Ark.  And, then God brings him animals.

Two.

By.

Two.

“Green alligators, and long-necked geese.  Humpty back camels and some chimpanzees.” (Gotta love the Irish Rovers.)

You know the story.

And, here, in our Advent text for today, Jesus is reminding his disciples of how absurd Noah must have looked to his neighbors.

And, guess what, Disciples?

You might be looking a bit like that as well.

The KINGDOM is coming!

But, we already have a king–Caesar.

See, our proclamation that the Kingdom is coming–and is already here–doesn’t always sit well with those around us.  They either don’t recognize the Kingdom, because they don’t know the King.  Or, they don’t think that the Kingdom can come into the mess that is surrounds us.  Surely, if the Kingdom of God is coming, then first all the bad must be wiped out.

Right?

Well, maybe not.  Maybe, it is within the midst of the messiness that the Kingdom–the rescue from the flood–is built.  It’s in the middle of the eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage that the Kingdom is built.

Slowly-by-slowly.

All the while, God invites us into the Kingdom.  Join it now.  Begin to live out the reality of freedom from the impending disaster now.  The Kingdom sits close at hand.  Sure, the Ark, like the Kingdom, isn’t finished yet.  So grab a hammer and a nail and get to building.

Be a part of the coming Kingdom now.  Because while the Kingdom isn’t fully realized, it is indeed being built.

In every situation.  All over the world.  There are evidences that the Kingdom is being built.  Disciples sent out.  Lights shining as if they were put on a lamp stand.  And bringing light to all in the house.  And, in that light, showing the way to (and of) the Kingdom.  Step-by-step.  Down the path of peace.

It is in this time of the Kingdom not yet complete that we work to build the Kingdom.  We labor–not for our own benefit–but for the benefit of those around us.  Those who don’t understand.  Those who don’t quite get it.  But, who just might pick up a hammer and start building on their own.  Until that day when it all makes sense.

And, we learn that the ark is full of our neighbors.  We learn that it is full of those who didn’t understand at first, but who decided to start building alongside us.  And, as they built, we discipled them.  We prayed with them.  We comforted them.  We were Jesus hands and feet to them.  And, the day will come when they will join the Kingdom and kept right on building alongside us!

So, build your boat. Every where you go. Be building. Be hammering. Be sawing. Be nailing. No matter the funny looks you receive. No matter the heckling. Keep building. Keep doing your part here in between now and the not yet.

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: The End

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke

“It will seem like hell has broken loose–sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.

“And then–then!–they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style–a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”

He told them a story. “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here–when you see these things start to happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here. Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too–these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.

“But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly me a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”

— Luke 21:25-36 (The Message)

THE END IS NEAR!

There. I said it.

Yet, before we go getting all Doomsday Prepper about it, let’s talk for a second about what that statement should and should not mean.

Should it mean to be ready? Yes. Should it mean to prepare your heart and spirit? Yes. Should it mean to stop everything you’re doing and hide out in a “spidey-hole”? No.

The end is near. Yet, here’s the question: If Jesus stood in front of you right now and said, “I’m not coming back for about 10,000 years” would it change how you live your life?

Preparing the Path is more than just getting ready for Christmastide. It’s about getting ready for Kingdomtide. It’s about getting your heart ready for the King.

It’s about getting the world ready for the King.

The. Whole. World. All of it. Every tribe. Every tongue. Every ethnos.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ dialogue about the end times, he records Jesus making this statement: “When the good news about the Kingdom has been preached all over the world [to every ethnos] and told to all nations, the end will come.” (Matthey 24:14 (CEV))

And, so, just as it was two thousand years ago, the end is near. And billions have yet to have opportunity to hear the “good news about the Kingdom”.

Back during the summer, Stephanie was talking to a young lady in one of the largest cities in the world. This young lady was experience a time of sorrow at the illness of a grandparent. Stephanie asked if she could pray for her in the name of Jesus. The young lady–who’s on Facebook even–has no idea who Jesus was. It is estimated that 90% of the 80 million people who live in the same nation as this young lady are in the same category–they’ve never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus, much less the good news of the Kingdom.

And, so, we continue to work. We continue to travel and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. We continue to support those who live “on the field.” We continue to stand on hillsides overlooking cities and asking that The Lord of the harvest would send workers into the fields (Matthew 9:38/Luke 10:2).

Prepare the Path for the Kingdom to come. Take the good news of the Kingdom everywhere you go.

Overlooking a valley in Central Asia

Overlooking a valley in Central Asia