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Stephen R. Clark
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Oreland, Pennsylvania
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Delivered December 30, 2018 | Huntingdon Valley, PA | Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church
You can listen to the sermon here: https://www.hvpc.org/sermons/sermon/2018-12-30/wait-for-it-:-living-in-the-time-between

WAIT FOR IT! : Living in the Time Between

A New Year’s message

Call to Worship -- Psalm 33:1-5, 20-22, ESV

Leader: Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.

People: Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!

Leader: Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

People: For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.

Leader:  He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

All: Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

First Reading -- Deuteronomy 10:12-21, ESV

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen."

Second Reading -- 2 Peter 3:1-14, ESV

I’m going to read verses 3-4, and 8-14:

3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.x
This is the Word of the Lord.

=====

We’ve just come out of Advent. A time of anticipation. Of looking forward.

But anticipating who? Looking forward to what?

Most would respond, “Well, the birth of Jesus, of course. After, all, it’s Christmas, you know!”

Yes, I do know!

And, by the way, it still is Christmas. Christmas technically doesn’t end until January 6th, which is Epiphany, or in some cultures, Three Kings Day. If you’re a purist about the season, your tree doesn’t come down until then.

If you’re a really true purist, right now your house is full of geese a-laying, golden rings, calling birds, French hens, turtle doves, and at least one partridge in a pear tree. On the way are drummers drumming, pipers piping, ladies dancing, lords a-leaping, maids a-milking, and swans a-swimming.

Sounds a bit messy and noisy to me! Although, golden rings I would be fine with.

And sure, during Advent we were anticipating the arrival of Christ.

But notice, I said “arrival” and not “birth.”

Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal priest, offers a different view of Advent, one that is grounded in early church history. In her book Advent: The once and future coming of Christ, she agrees that preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus is a part of Advent. But a truer focus is “on the second coming of Christ, who will arrive in glory on the last day to consummate the kingdom of God.”

She explains, “In a very real sense, the Christian community lives in Advent all the time. It can well be called the Time Between, because the people of God lie in the time between the first coming of Christ -- incognito in the stable of Bethlehem -- and his second coming -- in glory, to judge the living and the dead. In the Time Between, ‘our lives are hidden with Christ in God; when Christ who is our life appears, then we also will appear with him in glory’ ([as stated in] Colossians 3:3-4). Advent contains within itself the crucial balance of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires.”

“The now and the not-yet that our faith requires.”

This is an important concept to keep in mind. We’re in the Time Between.

=====

If you were here on Sunday, December 2nd, you heard Pastor Dan’s first sermon in his Advent series that addressed this issue of hope and what hope means for we who are Christians. He stated, “In common modern speech, we use the word ‘hope’ for future events that might or might not happen.”

He explained, “in scripture, the word ‘hope’ is used for future events that are 100 percent certain, but that require patience.”

He gave the example from Psalm 130:6 that declares, “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning....”

Then he clarified, “...the sun is coming up tomorrow. And the watchman knows that for sure. But until the sun does come up, the watchman is left in a state of waiting and hoping. There’s no uncertainty, but still the watchman must be patient.”

Dan went on, “Every time the Bible talks about hope, it’s not talking about a mere wish or aspiration or dream. It’s not talking about something that may or may not come to pass. When the Bible talks about hope, it’s talking about an absolute certainty, but a certainty we have to wait for.”

For me, this brings to mind those videos people post on social media with the admonition to “Wait for it!” The implied promise is that if we watch the entire video, at the end will come a twist, a surprise, an “ah-ha” or an “oh-no” moment. Sometimes that moment comes. Other times we merely think, “Well there’s three minutes of my life I’ll never get back!”

Not all “Wait for it!” videos are worth the wait. Unlike the promise of a new heaven and new earth which is a “Wait for it!” sure thing.

The promise of a new heaven and new earth, the promise of our final redemption and resurrection, is our solid hope and it’s plastered all throughout scripture. It is what we are waiting for, as 1 Peter 3:13 states, “... according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

If we are all regular readers of the Bible, as I hope we are, we can see that the overarching message of the Bible is to “look forward in hope.” In the Old Testament everything points toward the birth of the Messiah. In the New Testament everything points to the Second Coming of Christ. It’s only at the end of Revelation that we land in the eternal now.

Scripture also makes clear that as we are in the “Wait for it!” mode, in the meantime we can expect a somewhat rough and tumble life. There will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be suffering. There will be hard times. That final promise is not yet realized. But it is coming. Even if what we see now denies that.

In John 16:33 Jesus straight out declares, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The Amplified version expands on tribulation adding “and trials and distress and frustration.”

Oy vey!

But, wait for it!

The Amplified version goes on exhorting “but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]”

Well, GLORY!

=====

Let’s review where we are so far. We’ve just come out of Advent. We’ve just celebrated the birth of Jesus. We’ve now learned that Advent points, not just to the nativity, but more so to the Second Coming of Christ, to which we should always be looking forward. And we’ve learned that life is hard, but Jesus has our backs. And that was just the preamble to the introduction!

=====

So, now what? How are we supposed to live in this Time Between?

First, it’s important to understand the impermanence of this NOW.

In his book -- a title I considered borrowing for this sermon -- A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes, “For recognizing and resisting the stream of the world’s ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that are extremely useful: disciple and pilgrim.”

He explains, “Disciple says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always....We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.”

Peterson continues, “[The label] Pilgrim tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that ‘this world is not my home’ and set out for ‘the Father’s house.’”

This is reinforced in 1 Peter 2:11 that declares, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

And in Hebrews 13:14 which states, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

Second, while we don’t want to get too attached, we also don’t want to get distracted.

I once heard that the secret of patience was to do something else in the meantime. What that means is that when we’re sitting in the waiting room of the car repair place, or waiting for dough to rise, we distract ourselves from the waiting by engaging in a different activity.

It’s like when you’re on the way to grandma’s house and the three-year-old in the back seat keeps asking -- and this is a real-time reenactment:

“Are we there yet?”

“Are we there now?”

“How about now? Are we there?”

“Now?”

To keep from going insane, you try to engage them in a game or some activity to take their minds off the trip.

In these simple, down-to-earth scenarios, distraction may be fine. But when it comes to the anticipation we are to hold as we wait for the return of Christ, distraction can be deadly. It can take our eyes off the glorious THEN -- the not-yet of our goal of heaven -- and focus our attention on the frenetic NOW.

Perhaps we can take a hint from the three-year-old in the backseat. Instead of asking, “Are we there yet?” we may want to be asking, “Is He here yet?” “Is He here now?” “How about now?”

=====

Instead of distraction, we need to be engaged.

In, 2 Peter 3:11-14, we catch a glimpse of the “how not” and the “how to” for living in the NOW. Here’s the passage as rendered in the NIV:

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”

Dear friends: Be spotless. Be blameless. Be at peace with him.

From this I believe we can derive three guidelines for living in this Time Between.

We are to be:

• Pursuing holiness. (spotless.)
• Doing justice. (blameless.)
• Living community. (friends at peace.)

Let’s look at each of these.

=====

First, Pursuing Holiness:

When I was a kid and the preacher would haul out 1 Peter 1:16 I was terror stricken. “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” declares the verse.

Me? Holy? Like God? Even at a young age I had a fair awareness of my own sin. The idea of being holy felt impossible.

Sure, as I got older, I followed the general guideline of, “I don’t drink. I don’t chew. I don’t go with girls that do.” But a don’t-do-this and don’t-do-that admonition doesn’t get at the heart of what holiness is.

Backing up and putting that 1 Peter verse into context helps:

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

Now it’s becoming clearer!

First, holiness involves relationship. Being an obedient child means that God is my Father. Without relationship with God, holiness isn’t possible. As Christians, by the sacrifice and intervention of Christ, we are in relationship with God. In fact, as Paul declares in Colossians 3:3, “[our] life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Second, holiness involves our minds and behavior. We stop choosing to be foolish and start making smart choices. In Romans 12:2, Paul declares, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In the simplest sense, holiness accrues as we intentionally seek to conform to God’s will by choosing right living and immersing ourselves in His Word and seeking His face. It’s called sanctification.

Sanctification is the life-long process of working holiness into our lives.

Holiness goes in, love comes out. Holiness goes in, graciousness comes out. Holiness goes in, forbearance comes out, and so on.

=====

Next, Doing Justice:

Frequently, when demanding justice what we’re really doing is insisting on what we perceive as our rights. We believe we deserve the better place in line, the bigger slice of pie, control over the TV remote, or the final word on the color of the furniture. Yet, justice is mostly about others.

In his book, Generous Justice, Tim Keller tells about a man who moved from his comfortable, safe neighborhood into a poor, depressed, crime ridden area to do ministry. Keller explains, “[the man] became concerned about the most vulnerable, poor and marginalized members of our society, and made long-term personal sacrifices in order to serve their interests, needs, and cause. That is, according to the Bible, what it means to ‘do justice.’”

Keller goes on to explain that there are two Hebrew words in the Bible that are translated as justice.

The primary word, mishpat, relates to “acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status.” But beyond punishment or adjudication, Keller says the word also means “giving people their rights.” It’s the word used throughout the Old Testament that describes “taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor.”

Our HVPC Deacons are experts at this form of justice!

The second word is tzadeqah (tsay dock KUH) which can be translated as “being just” or “being righteous.” Keller explains that the word “refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity, and equity.”

Simply put, doing justice is a reflection of God’s righteous and loving character.

To be just, to bring justice, is to be like Christ. It is part of being an image-bearer of God.

James 1:27 declares “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

=====

And Finally, Living Community:

Believe it or not, I’m an introvert. As an introvert, concepts like “community” are a bit off-putting.

Community brings to mind a party or a gathering. With way too many people. And, for me, more than three can be way too many. But, I have to acknowledge that God said, “It is not good that man should be alone....”

For Christians, community is more intimate than mere numbers or proximity because we are defined as the body of Christ. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”

The analogy of Christian community as a body emphasizes that, beyond vital interconnectedness, each person is valuable, important, and essential. Through community we build up one another in Christ.

A distinct expression of this here at HVPC is through our small groups. I deeply value the times of sharing with other men that takes place twice a month at our Presbyterian Stogie Society meetings. Yes, even though there are always more than two or three guys there!

It’s in this smaller community of men that I can be more honest, receive genuine encouragement, and experience real godly love. And I know others who participate in different small groups can say the same.

In community we see that we are not alone in what life is throwing at us. Others also struggle with hard times. This brings peace of mind when, as we get to know each other better, we discover someone who has experienced a situation similar to ours, and learn they came out on the other side! They survived! They grew! They were victorious! And now they are able to stand with us providing encouragement, guidance, and wisdom.

=====

By the way, if you haven’t noticed yet, holiness, justice, and community overlap big time. We don’t grow in holiness and we can’t experience justice without community. Healthy Christian community can’t happen without justice and holiness. Proper justice can’t happen without holiness or in isolation. The bottom-line is that if we are truly in Christ we will grow in holiness, act in justice, and operate in community.

=====

But, you ask, all that’s nice, but what do these three things have to do with keeping heaven in sight?

Do you remember the story in Luke 2 of Jesus getting lost from Mary and Joseph? The first part of the chapter tells the Christmas story, and then near the end Jesus is suddenly 12-years-old and being left behind in Jerusalem after the Passover. Joseph and Mary track him down in the temple where he calmly declares, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

On earth, with Joseph, Jesus learned carpentry, but at the same time was always about his Father’s business, his eye on the ultimate goal.

On Christian vocation, Nancy Pearcey writes, “In our work we not only participate in God's providential activity today, we also foreshadow the tasks we will take up in cultivating a new earth at the end of time.”

In other words, as pilgrims and sojourners here in the Time Between, what we do now will have an impact then. When we are diligent to be about our Father’s business, by actively pursuing holiness, by doing justice, and by encouraging one another as we live in Christian community, we will never lose sight of our final goal and always live in anticipation of the coming of the Lord.

So, there you have it.

Romans 10:9-10 says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

If this is true of us, if this is how we define ourselves, then we need to keep heaven in sight by always living in holiness, living in justice, and living in community.

1 John 2:15-17 sums it all up saying, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

In this Time Between, let’s keep on keeping on in holiness, justice, and community -- and keep on looking forward -- as we move into the New Year.

=====

 

Let’s pray.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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