The Final Word

Sermon preached by Matt Staniz on May 15, 2011.  Sermon refers to predictions that the world would end on May 22 that were publicized via radio and highway billboards.

Click to listen.
So…did you get the message?Apparently we are headed down the home stretch. The billboards have been warning us for months: Judgment Day – May 21, 2011.Have summer plans at the shore? Too bad! World Series run for the Phillies this fall? Forget it! God is apparently ready to close the book on the world as we know it, and it’s going to happen this coming Saturday.

Which means, for people in my line of work, today is our last chance to preach–the last sermon. Today is the final word.

That’s more than a little bit of pressure, you know? You better pay attention!

Of course, to be honest, it also feels a little bit like the last day of school.

So, what should the sermon on the world’s final Sunday include?

As we face the possibility that we are in the final week of being God’s people on Earth–the final week of being the church–I think it’s appropriate to go back to the first week; to go back to the beginning of God’s mission through the church. We can look to the beginning of the church because, quite simply, our mission as followers of Jesus is the same mission that is was when it began. The world has changed dramatically over the centuries, and continues to change on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis, but what it means to be followers of Jesus is still exactly the same.

We hear it in the words of Acts chapter 2:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This is how what we call “the church” began. And, quite frankly, the purpose of people following Jesus has not changed at all in 2000 years. The people we read about in Acts chapter 2 had a purpose and that same purpose belongs to us today.

They became a community driven by God revealed in Jesus. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles; the teaching passed along from what Jesus taught. They devoted themselves to fellowship; to being a community. They devoted themselves to breaking bread together. They devoted themselves to prayer. As they gathered together around the gospel and around the breaking of bread, and as athey gathered together to pray–things happened.

There was awe–there wonders and signs, and the community that had formed were driven to turn themselves inside-out as a community in order to participate in what God was doing in the world. They saw everything they had as a means toward God’s mission. They devoted everything God gave them toward meeting needs. No one was abandoned. No one was left behind.

And that community of fellowship and generosity, that community built around profound loving relationship (with each other, with God revealed in Jesus, and with the world God loves) is the very same community–with the very same purpose–that we are a part of today. We are the same church today that was launched in Acts chapter 2.

We are called to be in relationship with God. We are given the same teachings rooted in Jesus Christ. We are invited into a life of prayer as we pay attention to God’s presence with us today.

We are called to be in relationship with each other: to devote ourselves to fellowship. And “fellowship” simply means being together; spending time together (and probably enjoying it, too!). We are called to devote ourselves to breaking bread together. Even as we do that together at the communion table, we also break bread together in the church basement. We also break bread together in each other’s homes. We also break bread at a playground picnic table with a group of children. We also break bread together at a tailgate party outside a Phillies game.

And as we grow in relationship to God and one another, we are also called to be in relationship with the world. We are called to gather all that God has given us and use it to meet the needs of the world God loves–the world God has placed us in to be practitioners of love.

Our relationship with God and each other turns us inside-out as a community because God has brought us together in the world in order to be a part of what God is doing in the world. God did not bring us together in this world in order to bide our time on the way to somewhere else. God did not bring us together in this world in order to wait to go to heaven. God did not bring us together in the world in order to wait for the day that we will all be snatched away.

If that were the case, putting up billboards reminding people to save the date is all we would need to do.

But that’s not what Jesus came to make possible. That is not the kingdom of God described in scripture. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” where? “On earth as in heaven.”

There is a “final word” for us to hear today. I do have a “final word” to proclaim, but that final word has nothing to do with billboards pointing to May 21, 2011. You see, I did my own research this week and, quite frankly, the billboards got the date wrong. I’m sure an adjustment will be announced–probably on May 22–but I expect that the date will still be wrong. The “final word” on God’s work in the world does not point to a billboard on a highway in 2011. God’s “final word” points to a cross on a hill 2000 years ago. God’s “final word” is the cross of Jesus. God’s final word is an endless, sustaining, amazing grace that is ours because of Jesus.

It’s the final word of grace that we hear in the apostles’ teaching. It’s the final word of grace that we experience in community. It’s the final word we experience as we break bread together. It’s the final wordof grace that we experience as we pray together. It’s the final word of God’s grace that turns us inside-out as a community and makes us builders of God’s kingdom and reflections of God’s will–not just in heaven after we die, but starting today, on Earth as in heaven.

If anything, the billboards can remind us that there is an urgency to our mission. We should approach following Jesus as though time is limited, because–judgment day or not–this world needs to experience the love of God now. The world needs to experience grace and love this week. The hungry need to be fed this week. The sick need to be cared for this week. The lonely need to be loved this week. The needs around us (and among us) must be addressed this week.

So, regardless of what we think will happen on Saturday, I pray we embrace our identity and mission as God’s church this week.

And, if it turns out that billboards did miss the date, I figure a ladder and a bucket of paint is all that we need to spread word that we’ll still be proclaiming that final word of God’s grace for as long as we are on this mission!

Be sure to come for 9:30 next Sunday, though. I wouldn’t want to cause any undue panic! [ed. note: this is a change of schedule to begin the summer]

Until then, may we remain constantly surrounded by the final word of God’s grace and be urgently committed to sharing that word of grace in everything that we do.


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