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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Made Ready for God's Kingdom (1 Corinthians 1:3-9)

1st Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014

          As I read 1 Corinthians 1, I imagine our church family.  The Apostle Paul traveled around the Greek-speaking world talking about the Jewish Messiah who he believed was God in human form, had been resurrected, and was and is the Savior of the world.  Himself a Jew, Paul believed God had come in the flesh in Jesus.  The Jewish Messiah had come for Israel and for all people.  Paul staked his life on this.  So he traveled about and churches grew from groups of people who accepted what he said about Jesus.
          After leaving the churches he wrote letters back to encourage them and keep them on the path of discipleship – the Jesus way.  First Corinthians is one of those letters.  Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit, so what he said to first century congregations fits 21st century congregations all around the world.
          His words speak to our church. 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my[b] God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of[c] Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I am thankful because I am enriched by being one among you.  I thank God because we are a church family motivated to love people.  We hear the call to go into the world proclaiming good news, and we answer. 
As do the work of God church, we rest in the promise Paul writes in verse 8.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The end of the world is coming and God makes us ready for it.
Of course we know we are not blameless.  We are sinners in a world of sinners.  Beth and John read from Isaiah 64.  In verse seven the prophet says, 
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

          When Isaiah says, “We all fade like a leaf,” he could be describing the American cultural scene at the outset of the 21st century.  We are impressed by our scientific advances.  It is the age of technology and people use the knowledge humans have acquired to do amazing things in medicine and communication and travel.  But, our tendency to sin covers over the good we do.  Before God, humans striving for greatness fall short and always will.
          It is the Spirit of Jesus that lifts us up.  Through death and resurrection, Jesus has removed our sin.  Through the continuing presence of His Holy Spirit, we who continue to be quite fallible and guilty are indeed blameless.  He makes us clean, innocent, and right.  As Paul says, by His grace, he strengthens us to the end, which is most definitely coming.
          During Advent we remember the coming of Jesus, we live by His Spirit, and we anticipate his return.  The world will be judged, history will end, and all who are in Christ will live eternally in the Kingdom.  Until that time, He strengthens us, makes us ready.  Right now, the Spirit is at work in our hearts, shaping us in the way of Christ. 
          Again, in Isaiah 64, we see a world moving further and further away from God. 
There is no one who calls on your name,
    or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have delivered[c] us into the hand of our iniquity.

That is the world as it is.  Then remember Paul’s encouragement that as the world sinks deeper and deeper in sin, The Spirit strengthens us.  In the next verse Isaiah says it this way. 

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

          A couple of things are clear to me.  First, the world is not going to become a better place by human effort.  We should strive for peace, for health, for love.  We should do our dead-level best to make the world as a good as we can.  But we do so as an act of obedience and appreciation to God.  We don’t have illusions that we will end hunger or find every cure for every disease or eventually come to a generation in which all mankind has love for each other. We reach for those things because they are all realities in God’s eternal kingdom.  But we reach knowing sin cannot be conquered.
          The second thing I hold onto is even though we know sin won’t be conquered by human striving, it has been defeated by Jesus.  His Spirit is at work.  As the world falls deeper and deeper into sin, those in Christ are made more and more ready to live in the eternal Kingdom where death and sin are no more.  Everyone who is in Christ has an assignment from God to invite all who do not know Him to turn to Jesus; this is a turn away from sin and death and a step onto the path of everlasting life. 
          One of the recommended readings for the 1st Sunday of Advent is the prophecy of Jesus found in Mark 13 and other places.  He speaks of suffering and the urgency of the hour.  Now is the time to hold tight to our faith and to lovingly, patiently, draw people to Jesus.  In our celebration his birth, we rest in the promise that His Spirit is holding us and guiding us until He returns.  We read Mark 13, and we don’t understand every word of it, but the Spirit helps us.  As we read, we know world is moving toward decay.  We also know the Spirit makes us ready for the day Heaven and Earth will come together in the eternal Kingdom.


Mark 13:24-37

Reader 1: 24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Reader 2: 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Reader 3: 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[e] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Reader 1: 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert;[f] for you do not know when the time will come.

Reader 2: 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

Reader 3: 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

          We hear Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  Shortly after he spoke these words, he was crucified and he rose.  A few decades later Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.  In the sense that the center of God’s work on earth shifted from the City of David, Jerusalem, to the person of Jesus, then what he said was literally true.  That generation of disciples met the risen Christ before any of them died.
          In a representative sense, his continuing presence in the world, the Holy Spirit at work in His Church, has not passed away.  The church will always be present bearing witness to Jesus until the end.  Paul reiterates the promise when he says God will strengthen us to the end.  We can count on it.
          We cannot predict it.  Jesus is very clear.  The Advent message over and over is “Keep awake.”  We don’t know when the end will come.  We only know, the world is falling away from God, in Christ we are being made ready to be with God and we are commissioned to invite the lost, dying world to turn from death by turning to Jesus.  We have the promise of eternity and the mission to live into eternity as we invite others to come along with us.
          Paul’s words from the last chapter of 1st Corinthians sum up our stance, how God equips us especially in Advent.  This is how we live as Jesus’ people – people who bear witness to Him in a secular age.  This is from 1st Corinthians 16: “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (v.13-14).
          I pray we will, filled with the Spirit, be examples of God’s patient love as we show that love and show great patience in waiting for the day of the Lord and in living among fallen sinners as we wait.  Remember, we are empowered by the Spirit, empowered to love.  We have the promises of God to motivate us and the Spirit of God to uphold us.  Those around us who are mean or short-tempered or foul-mouthed or insulting need the Spirit that fills us and the promise that gives us hope.  I pray Jesus will be seen in us and the world around us will be drawn to him through us as we go about our lives in the hectic but also blessed season that has begun.


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