Sunday, June 5, 2011

Easter 7A*

"When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight."

This does not sound much like what Harold Camping was saying recently.  Sadly people really believed that the end was coming.  People quit jobs, sold homes, did some pretty radical things in response to Camping’s predictions.  When May 21st came and the end did not come Mr. Camping was at first flabbergasted and then recalculated. 

That makes me both sad and angry.  Sad that people will believe in predictions and turn their lives upside down.  Angry because children of God were led astray by a man calling himself a prophet.  A man many forget got it wrong in 1994.  A man basing his predictions on some math and his interpretation of the Bible.  And got it wrong again although according to his predictions the spiritual end time happened on May 21st at which time God chose who he will take on October 21st.

I am reminded also that many of the scriptures he uses are apocalyptic and not meant to be taken literally.   A very wise professor once reminded my class in an urgent voice, “it is a SIN to try to figure out the second coming.  That is up to God.”  He reminded us that we are not God and therefore would likely get it very, very wrong just as Mr. Camping got it wrong.  He then pointed us to today’s reading from Acts and a portion of the Gospel of Matthew. 

It saddens me that people forget that the Kingdom of Heaven is about love, not dire predictions of annihilation and gatekeepers.  Jesus reminds us he came to save the world, not to condemn it.

I know there has been much talk in the media in the recent past about Hell and end times.  I am reminded that we are to be always ready, to live as a believer isn’t about things, it is about the heart.  It is about living a life that continues to seek after God, to spend time growing and yearning to be less like me and more like Christ.

I am not a great theologian and while I have a Masters of Divinity, I also have a child like faith.  That faith has led me to believe that God is so much bigger than my understanding, no matter how learned I am.  That child like faith has left me with the belief that this immensely powerful, loving, risk taking God will go to the extreme to save others.  I mean look what he did with me!

So when I get to heaven if I see people who did bad things on earth, I won’t be surprised.  I will be reminded that I am so glad God is God and I am not.  I could never love as big as God can.  There are people I have a hard time even being around and while I pray to change that God continues to love those that I sometimes just can’t by myself.

We, like the disciples today, want parameters.  We want to know the who, when, why, and how.  Perhaps that is why some people fell for Mr. Camping’s predictions.  There have been books, movies, television shows, and even a series of novels wanting to predict when restoration will happen.

Did you notice Jesus does not respond to their question?  Instead he reminds them, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”   We are reminded we are not God, we are not to know.

Jesus is reminding the disciples of their need to trust in him and in God. This was a confused bunch. Though they spent time with Jesus and listened to him teach they really don’t understand what is to come.  And then in the midst of questioning him, he is gone.  Poof up into a cloud and then gone.  I imagine they may have been a little upset. None of us like to be left.

In his time with them, with us, Jesus shares again and again words about relationship and a promise for the future. Words of transition from a journey to a way of life. Jesus continues to reveal himself to us again and again.  He does not answer what happens when we leave this earth.

Jesus shares us in his life, teachings, and today the unbounded love of God.  We are told time and time again that is love is open to all of us.  This love is so big it covers all of us.  Most of us had been taught there was  only so much to go around, so you must follow all the rules and just maybe, perhaps, you can be loved by God.  But there is enough love for all of us. ALL OF US.

That is one of the things that is so hard to understand about God’s love. It isn’t like a pie with only so much to go around. There is more than enough for each of us. We don’t miss our slice because we have sinned. There is enough for each of us. Right where we are. God’s love is boundless. There is room for ALL OF US.

That is so hard for us to understand isn’t it? There is room for all of us. Right where we are. We do not have to do anything to earn God’s love. It is ours for the taking. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is ours. Unearned. Undeserved. Ours. Endlessly.

And yet we try to limit it, don’t we? We must be good enough, smart enough, or what ever enough. But the good news is, no we don’t. We are loved beyond measure by a God whose love knows no limits. Always. Forever. Without condition. We are loved. Fully, completely, forever. And nothing, nothing we can do will end that love. And that really is the scary part, isn’t it? We do not know how to handle this God that loves us so fully. In our futile attempts to understand it, we put conditions on it. Try to make rules to earn it. Rather than accept the gift and embrace it, we push it away and in trying to understand it, decide we need to find ways to earn it.

Or like Mr. Camping we let go of faith and try to use human means to predict what God will do.  Yet that is not what we are called to.  Jesus promises that we will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us.  And guess what?  That has already happened.  It happens when you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever at baptism.  Even  if you cannot remember it.  We can’t earn our way or predict our way into the love of God.  God already loves us.

That leaves us with the choice of what to do with that love.  And you know what?  God will still love you even if you say no.  That is how big God’s love is. 

It is huge and it is unconditional and it is already yours.

My prediction for today?

God loves you!  Forever.  Always.  Without condition.

That you can take to the bank my friends.

May you open your arms to the love of God that knows no limits.

*I was on vacation on "Post Rapture" Sunday but posted a reflection on it based on that day's Gospel.  When I saw the reading from Acts appointed for today, I felt I needed to share it in the pulpit.

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