Sunday, November 13, 2016

Beware the you are not led astray

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 65: 17-25 and Luke 21: 5-19, NT page 85 Sermon Title: Beware that you are not led astray Preached on 11/13/16 “Beware that you are not led astray” is the title I gave to this sermon, and I chose that phrase Jesus uses in our Second Scripture Lesson for the title because I believe that we often are led astray even though he tells us not to be. We, as a people, are led astray all the time. Often people are dishonest with us about the cost or the time required. There were people downtown, Christians I assume, standing beside a sign, handing out pamphlets, and saying to the men and women who walk by, “Sir, can I have just a minute of your time?” If you had somewhere to be you were wise to have kept walking. “Beware that you are not led astray,” Jesus says, because Christianity is going to take up more than just a minute of your time. In fact, the cost is high for what is required is your life – so we sing “Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord to thee,” but that’s a hard sell. We don’t like things that are hard – we want things to be easy, and that’s why the computerized receptionist says that “someone will be with you shortly” in the hopes that you won’t give up, but “beware that you are not led astray” for many things in this life take time, and if you are expecting immediate results, if you are expecting the easy way, then when things get hard those who offered us less than full disclosure did us a true disservice. “Beware that you are not led astray,” Jesus says, because some things are hard. Some things take time. Marriage for one. Sara and I had been married for just a few months. We were living in a one bedroom apartment without air conditioning in Atlanta. Every morning I woke up at 6:00 AM so that I could get to work cutting grass by 7:00. Sara would wake up about the time I was leaving and would drive from Atlanta to Alpharetta in 45 minutes to an hour of bumper to bumper traffic. We didn’t have enough money. We didn’t have enough time. We’d come home from work tiered. The traffic was so stressful that Sara developed an ulcer, and when I heard a man say that the first year of marriage is the hardest I was so relieved I couldn’t stand it. Of course, I look back on those days now longingly. Times were simple and we were happy. There was joy in our little apartment and there was love, but all those who expect marriage to be easy will wind up disappointed so “Beware that you are not led astray,” for some things are meant to be hard. Raising children is hard. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, but if you go into parenthood thinking that life will be about the same as it has always been than be warned now for a child is like a wrecking ball – sweeping aside things like sleeping late so that looking forward to Day Light Savings Time is a luxury never to be looked forward to again. A child does the same thing to the idea of a spotless living room – if you imagine that you’ll be able to keep your living room spotless with a toddler in the house than you have been led astray because children change everything, and those who aren’t prepared for a radical shift of priorities and lifestyle will be sorely disappointed. You know what else is hard that people think is going to be easy? Democracy. Democracy is hard, but we treat it like it’s easy. Half of us voted last week. Literally half of this country voted, the other half couldn’t make it, and what’s more is that out of the half of us who went to vote are so many people who go to vote and that’s it. We cast our vote and then we go home believing that we’ve satisfied our duty to our country and then sit back to watch and criticize and judge the people who have been elected. To any who believe that democracy is easy I say, “beware that you are not led astray,” for Scripture calls us to pray for our leaders and that is going to be hard for some, but anyone who said democracy was going to be easy was leading us astray. In the introduction to his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, Eric Metaxas tells the story of the summer of 1787, when inside Independence Hall over the course of about one hundred days “some of the most brilliant men of that or any other era created what would become the Constitution of a new country.” “We the people,” this document began, but “what is required of us – of each one of us who are “we the people,” is something that we have mostly forgotten Metaxas claims. He tells the story, one I had never heard before, recorded by Dr. James McHenry, a delegate from Maryland, who was, at the age of 34, one of the youngest men at the convention. McHenry wrote that as Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall once the Constitution had been finished a young woman named Mrs. Powell shouted out to him, “Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin, a man who was rarely short on words shouted back to her, “A republic, madam – if you can keep it.” I hope that no one did, but if you’ve been told that democracy is easy, that it is normal or typical or that you are entitled to it, you have been led astray, for democracy is a system of government that requires you to fight if we are to keep it. Now finally, there’s Christianity. And I hope no one ever told you that Christianity would be easy, but some people do, some people smooth out the edges and water down the commitment. Just four easy payments of 29.95 they say, but truly, nothing that is worth having comes easy and our Lord Jesus Christ is no Tupperware salesmen and what he’s hawking is not something that can be used once and then stowed away in a drawer – our Lord is offering us the bread of life, the living water so that we will never go thirsty, but “Beware that you are not led astray” because this is going to be hard. The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and “The time is near!” When you hear of wars and insurrection, do not be terrified. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues. Dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. They will arrest you and persecute you. They will hand you over and you will be brought before kings and governors – and “Beware that you are not led astray” because you can never say that Jesus told us that Christianity was going to be easy. And when life gets hard – that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It felt good to write that down last Friday morning. It feels good to say it to you now so I’ll say it again: “When life gets hard – that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.” I think it feels good to me to say that and to hear that because I always assume that I could have done something to prevent hardship. I have a list of regrets so long that it’s amazing. Every morning my liturgy to start the day is this long list of I should haves and I wish I would have – if only I had been better or smarter or stronger or kinder than life would be easy, which is how I assume it should be. When I was in 9th grade I got hit in the face by Jason Muhmaw – and he’s not a major figure in my life. I just barely knew the guy but I think about him about once a week and how I wish I would have done something besides the nothing that I did. Regrets. I have a few. And they go through my mind again and again. I’m still living out my mistakes and imagining a different future where things would turn out better because life is not easy and so often I assume that’s because I have done something wrong. What could I have done? What could I have said? What could I have not said? If only I could do it all again – I already have my speeches planned so just as soon as someone invents a time machine I’ll go back to fix things, but Jesus tells us, “make up your minds not to prepare a defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” That’s what he tells us, only, what then am I to do with the speech that I’ve prepared? I hope you can tell this is a political sermon I’m preaching today. Right now, the Democrats are mulling over past decisions to figure out what went wrong and preparing speeches to make sure that things go differently next time, but Jesus commands something more faithful than regret. First he reminds us that life is hard and is full of tragedy, but our response to such tragedy cannot always be formulating better words or better actions, for we are not in charge here. We are powerful enough to change the channel, but the whole world does not rest in our hands. We are powerful enough to change the baby’s diaper, but from us does not come the breath of life. And we may have a part to play in this great cosmic drama called human history – but it is God who moves the earth to change summer to fall and fall to winter. It is God who melts hearts made of stone. It is God who gives life and makes a way out of no way at all. So, stop preparing your defense in advance, for if you go to your friends with a speech in your hands you can’t hear what your friend has to say. Now is the time to listen. Now is the time to rest in the assurance that Jesus never said this would be easy, in fact he told us all that it would be hard for where he leads is to the cross. Make up your mind not to prepare your words or your actions in advance, for our Lord is at work today – and rather than preparing speeches or regretting actions now is the time to put our trust in him and what he has promised he would do. Hear again these words from the Prophet Isaiah: For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating. Amen.

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