Luke 21:25-36

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Exhortation to Watch

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

What catches our imagination when we see things clearly?  Or maybe not clearly?!  There is a lot of “looking”, watching, seeing, in this morning’s gospel passage.  

I was looking for lyrics to songs about seeing as I was writing this sermon.  Then it hit me as I did a search for “seeing”.  The problem is not seeing something, not seeing that so much is changing in the world, the issue is what do we see, or who do we see?  

These are some of the most longing and beautiful words about seeing from the musical artist, Peter Gabriel, from a few years ago:

In your eyes

The light, the heat (in your eyes)

I am complete (in your eyes)

I see the doorway (in your eyes)

To a thousand churches (in your eyes)

The resolution (in your eyes)

Of all the fruitless searches (in your eyes)

Oh, I see the light and the heat (in your eyes)

Oh, I wanna be that complete


I wanna touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes

Love, I don’t like to see so much pain

So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away

I get so tired working so hard for our survival

I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive

And all my instincts they return

And the grand facade, so soon will burn

Without a noise, without my pride

I reach out from the inside

The issue for us, is do we see out of love, deep love…not just love for another human, a project, or even a church or a family, but the deep universal love that keeps us grounded, helps us to come alive.  The love that God gives us of God’s Self.

Richard Rohr this week in my daily devotional said this:  

Those who truly live in The Story have embraced and integrated their personality, shadow, woundedness, family issues, culture, and contextualizing life experiences under The One. . . . This is a truly integral spirituality, a truly catholic worldview, and the unrecognized goal of all monotheistic religions. These, like Jesus, desire “nowhere to rest their head” except in the One and Universal Love. 

We come to this morning’s gospel lesson and its word on seeing, on watching.  The setting is right before Jesus and the disciples have their last supper.  Jesus is teaching in the temple and telling folks that they should recognize the signs all around them.  That there is distress in the nations, a foreboding of what is to come and to be on the look-out for the Son of Man, the Messiah.

It’s interesting that not much has changed since Jesus gave those words.  In Jesus’ time there were protests, Roman oppression and rule, unjust systems and folks rising up to challenge them, and wars, always wars.  

Today, if you only watch the news for 5 minutes, you see about the same things.  Different actors, but still the same.

Not only are their signs of the times that tell us that something isn’t right in the world, but we see so much in our own lives:   conflicts with others, a deep sense of distrust, a desire to win rather than work together towards good goals, a deep sense of anxiety and fear within culture and within ourselves.  We not only see signs of distress in culture, but in our lives.  I talk with folks all of the time that are dealing with panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and situational as well as chronic depression…as well as grief and loss…which is OK, it’s part of it…I know it so well in this season of my own life.   

We all see things that can lead one towards despair and even confusion.  What’s going on here?  We may wonder.  But, Jesus has other words for us, that when we sense some of the things I just mentioned, there is a deeper promise that God has made to us.  We are not alone and that God has come, is here, and will come for us.  

The writer of Luke is telling us that God’s promise of entering humanity is upon us.  That in the midst of the anxiety, distress, and confusing times, that there is good news.  When we read this passage of Luke, we can respond in several ways:  one is fear, the other is faith that God will keep God’s promises and we can life expectantly and with joy, hope, peace, and love.  

Rather than looking at the events around us with fear and anxiety, we can live with confidence and courage.  A Greek word that is used often to describe God’s Presence is Parousia.  It means literally presence, arrival, or visit.  God’s Kingdom is upon us, God’s Presence.  The question for us is do we see the signs of God’s Presence in our lives?

Do we sense that something new is emerging within our lives and do we live in expectation of this newness being made known?  Do we get wrapped up in the anxiety and emotion of external issues that arise around us or are we able to take a deep breath and sense that something good may arise out of whatever situation that we are facing eventually?  Or, better yet, we may not see anything good come out of some situations, but do we have a sense that we can sit with whatever is happening and know that we are not alone and that we can share whatever is happening with others and with God?

I believe that cultivating this sense of Presence is key for our lives.  If we work from love, from faith, we can see so much in our lives and in the world that strengthen our faith in God and in others…if we can live our lives acknowledging the Presence of God around us.  As we listen to ourselves, others, and attempt to look at even familiar things with a sense of God’s presence in everything, we can catch those glimpses of God that can move us towards growth.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.   Advent literally means that we are preparing for the coming of Jesus.  It is about arrival, coming into place, viewing something in a new way.  Today, we have a sign of a candle being lit representing hope. 

Hope is defined in the dictionary in several ways: 
a person or thing that may help or save someone.grounds for believing that something good may happen…a feeling of trust.

Faith is similar and somethings this Sunday can be called the faith Sunday.  Faith is defined in the dictionary as trust or confidence in someone or something especially when things are not black and white, it is also a strong belief in God based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.  Faith can give us hope, which is deeper than optimism…

Luke is calling us out to have faith and hope that we may never understand, but we can live into or apprehend, we can’t prove it.  But, it is a faith that keeps us alert, keeps us living expectantly.  We are called to be open to God’s breaking into our lives in the most unexpected ways.  God is showing us things all of the time.  We can be stubborn or attempt to control what signs God may be giving us, we can be resistant to God’s Presence out of fear and a desire to cling to what we know.  Or, we can see, that, just like the seasons give us clues that change is upon us, that God’s Presence in our lives has arrived, is arriving, and will arrive.  We can see that as we stay alert and practice listening or noticing the signs of God’s activity, that we can have lives filled with meaning, purpose, and even gratitude in the midst of all of the craziness that we experience within us and around us.  


John 18:33-37

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Who are you?  That’s a great question.  Who are we?  I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I don’t like to be labeled.  I like running, but I don’t want to just be known as a runner.  I want to be healthy.  I’m a spouse, parent, friend, etc…but I want to also be known as a someone that cares, is open, loves well, is inconsistent at times, but always willing to go deeper in who I am with others and with myself.  Same thing about being a pastor.  Love it.  And, quite honestly, being at Fleming Road UCC has rekindled my love and deepened my call of being a pastor.  But, I want to be known for deeper things as well…a friend first as Christ was/is a friend.  

You can go down the line:  politics, theology, associations, etc.  I want to be something more than the things that I may engage in…I think we all do. 

This morning’s gospel lesson is about getting to the truth of who we are.  

It is also full of drama.  The writer in John is attempting to tell a beautiful story about “truth”.  In our culture today, people are always talking about biblical truth.  It’s interesting to me on how many things people say is biblical truth, while others say the exact opposite as biblical truth.  It’s one of those dead end arguments, if you say something is biblically true, it’s like you are trying to shut down an argument.

But, the writer of John is trying cut through the distractions and point to Truth.  I’d say truth with a capital “T”.   A truth that isn’t convenient, but is deep and lasting, and requires courage to live into.  A truth that has much more to about relational reality than facts or figures.  

The dramatic fashioning of the story is interesting.  The actors in this drama leading to Jesus’ crucifixion have all left the stage, except for Mary Magdalene, the disciples, the religious rulers, the mobs, all have left and its just Jesus and roman governor, Pilate.  

Pilate is intrigued by Jesus.  He has some doubts on Jesus’ guilt.  He is not resolute and he wants to be practical, but he’s curious and he’s searching for an answer.  Jesus was just before a mob demanding his crucifixion.  I’d imagine that the crowd there that day was filled with tension, fear, anxiety.  They were under roman rule, they were enslaved to a religious system that was propping itself up by they’re going along with the system.  They did not want to give up on what they had lived under because it was familiar and they could not see beyond to what Jesus exemplified.  

The religious leaders also needed a distraction to maintain power.  Jesus was challenging their system, their way of living, and they needed to show the crowds they were still in charge.  

They all needed a scapegoat if you will, someone to blame their issues on, someone that they could punish for their own sin.  And, Jesus seemed like a good one to scapegoat.  

Yet, they could not kill Jesus without Roman approval.  But, Pilate wasn’t convinced.  He wanted to appease the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and he also did not want civil unrest.  So, he pushed the pause button and questioned Jesus in private.  

He starts with some probing questions, “ are you the king of the Jews”.  The “you” in Greek is emphatic, are YOU the king of the Jews.  Jesus is also curious; he wants to know if Jesus is being prompted to ask or if it’s his own question.  Jesus asks, is this your idea?  Pilate responds, that it’s his own people who have betrayed Jesus, and wants to know what it is he’s done.  

Then Jesus talks about his kingdom.  His kingdom is not of this world.  The kingdom of this world is about power, prestige, hierarchy, status, enslavement of the masses, and fearful individualism where the focus is on some type of survival, scarcity of resources that pushes one towards selfishness and violence.

Yet, Jesus’ kingdom is not about any of those things, its power comes from humility, confidence, and service.  It is non-hierarchal, relational, and collaborative.  It frees up everyone from slavery to whatever is keeping them from growing towards a deeper truth of who they really are.  It is not based on fear or anxiety but brings peace, presence, and abundance.  It gives us loving community and friendships with others, and it is marked by non-violence.  

Jesus goes on to say that he has come into the world.  That’s a huge statement.  Jesus is saying that he was, before he was even born.  He existed before he came to us in a feeding trough, a manger somewhere near Bethlehem.  And that he came to testify to the Truth.  And, the Truth is embodied in the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.  Jesus says that he is the truth and the truth will set us free elsewhere in scripture.

We so often want to say we believe in the Bible as Jesus followers, but we don’t believe in a book, we believe in the God that is revealed to us through Jesus that is described in the Bible.  Nathan Hamm says this:

The Word of God is “living & active”

because the Word of God is Jesus.

Books don’t live & act. People do.

The Word didn’t become a book.

The Word became flesh.

This Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth, to testify that there is a better way to live and find our being.  Friends, as we go into the world around us, as we listen to our neighbors, we will find God active, we will find so many things that will point us towards a loving God.  And we will grow.  

We often ask the question, how will we survive and grow as a church?  

If we have any chance of growing closer to God, of seeing our church not only survive, but thrive, then we have an opportunity, just like Pilate, to ask Jesus what is truth.  But, unlike Pilate, we can have courage to live on the side of truth, to know the Jesus that embodies truth and to follow his example of going into the world and finding the places and people where God is at work and invite them into our fellowship, even as we join them in friendship in the world that we live in.  

If we can dare to risk this, we will move from death into the resurrection, life filled with Jesus, filled with Truth.

May it be so with us.


Mark 13:1-8

13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

My son and I used to have a tradition of going to see the Marvel movies together when they came out.  As he’s gotten older, we have not done that as much…although we did go and see the new Marvel movie, The Eternals, last week.  Which was pretty good, except for the guy behind us snoring…I guess he had a long day…and, I hope that if any of you ever fall asleep during one of my sermons, that you don’t snore…at least loudly.  

Endgame was one of the Marvel movies that Brennan and I saw together.  It was the culmination of several Marvel movies depicting the end of the world.  In this movie, the villain, Thanos, had grabbed all six of these powerful stones that enabled him to destroy half of the universe and 1/2 of its population.  But, the Avenger superheros find a way to reverse time and restore the universe and its population…including many of the Avengers who had vanished.  

Now, that was a movie, and as good it was, it’s still fantasy.  Yet, and we have said this before, we live in “apocalyptic” times.  That doesn’t mean the end of the world, but it does mean the end of some things so that new things can emerge.  It also means that things are being revealed that were hidden, or not recognized before.

Friends, as we read the gospel story, can we not see that this was not only true 2,000 years, but so true today!  

Jesus makes a statement, that the temple, this grand building in Jerusalem that was built by King Solomon, was one of the most amazing structures in antiquity, and made a huge impression on the disciples.  Again, remember last week, when we said that we often go after things that are shiny, appealing, or speak somehow to a sense of oversized grandeur that make us feel important for reasons other than what we were created for?  The disciples kept on falling into the same patterns, going after surface things, wanting to be great, wanting to be a part of the system that kept them from realizing their full humanity.  

Jesus literally goes after them with a blunt statement meant to cause them some dissonance, to make them thing, to shake them out of their comfort.

You see this temple that you are so impressed with?  See how powerful it looks?  How permanent?  Well, nothing is permanent, these stones, large stones, will all fall down, this building will be destroyed…and, so will all of your notions that have been created to give you some sense of control, when in reality, those notions control you and keep you from becoming the person that you have always wanted to be.

Its interesting though, the disciples stick with Jesus.  They know his words and actions carry meaning.  It often happens that when Jesus makes these statements in public, there’s a sidebar conversation with the disciples where he explains further.  After three of the disciples ask in private the meaning of his words, Jesus goes on to say that there will always wars, rumors of wars, human conspiracies, and all sorts of disasters, but something deeper is going on.

Friends, look around!  We see this today, everything is being exposed.  We see our political structures exposed…both sides, all sides.  There are some good people in government, yes, but we have a system that is collapsing from lack of trust, greed, and a lust for power…and everyone blaming others rather than working towards the common good.  The church universal is being exposed as it became complacent and sold out to being an entertainment center, a walled fortress, or a sales pitch.  We have become a society based on business, on transactions, of living above our places, or locations, and zipping around like ants marching towards a slow death,  rather than a community of people, in a location, living in place, being transformed and transformational, and growing into life, the abundant life that Jesus came to show and to reveal to us…and give to us freely without condition!  

The same thing is true in our personal lives.  We go through the throes of life holding on to things, notions, bias, image, and relationships.  They all have to be brought into the light, because often we try to hide behind them and present an image to the world that is so much work.  

God wants us to give us life, real life.  God wants us to live freely and in love with ourselves, others, and to be experiencing God’s movement, God’s love, in every aspect of our lives.  

But, giving birth to life requires pain.  Jesus compares apocalyptic times in our life as “birth pains”.  I have not given birth, but as I’ve shared before, I’ve watched it happen…and I did experience pain when Debbie punched me while giving birth to Brennan.  Birth is hard, we don’t want to leave the comfort of the umbilical cord, the womb, and enter into this crazy, painful, sad, joyful, wonderful world.  Yet, we can’t stay in the womb, that will eventually kill us and kill the mother…we have to leave, we have to grow, we have to trust, and risk.  We really do not have a choice, yet, we also do have a choice to how we live and respond.

Friends, apocalyptic times are all around us, we can accuse, scream, take sides, put others down, live in despair, or we can make a stand, lean into them, grow and learn, and become.  Our world, and our own personal worlds, will end and are dying, but it’s not the end of the world, or our own worlds…no, it’s actually the beginning, a new birth.  

May we live into the possibilities as we embrace the changes in and around us.