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To The Finish And Back: Living For The End
December 4, 1994

MALACHI 3:1-4; PHILIPPIANS 1:3-11; LUKE 3:1-6

Can it be said of you that you are a person ahead of your time? If not, would you prefer the description: behind the times, living in the dark ages, a Neanderthal? What direction are you facing? Backwards, with your back to the future, believing in the Good Old Days, looking back to a mythical Garden of Eden where you think life was better? Perhaps you have selective memory, and remember only the good, forgetting the pain that was in the past. Are you being dragged into the future kicking, screaming, protesting, "I don't wanna go!" Or, are you facing forward--looking to the kingdom of God, looking to the coming of the Lord, looking to the finish line? And, not only looking to the end, but living for the end?

Advent looks to the end. Advent reminds us that we do know where the finish line is. We have glimpses of the future, glimpses of God's time, God's reign. Jesus was the first final human being. In Jesus we see the future. In Jesus we see where it is all heading. In Jesus we see God's plan in full fruition. As Jesus' followers, we look to the end, and not only look, but live for the end.

What does it mean to live for the end? There is a TV program, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, God calls us to embody the lifestyle of a Christian, the lifestyle of those who know where the finish line is, the lifestyle of those who live ahead of their time.

The Old Testament lesson this morning from Malachi looks ahead to the coming of the Lord and asks, Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? Therefore, be ready. Our culture, including the church, has lost a concern over behavior. We believe anything goes, as long as you are sincere. You can always be forgiven. And, who cares? I'll tell you who cares how you live. God cares, and hopefully, you care. Hopefully, you care how you live not because someone might see you or catch you or punish you, but because God calls you to live the proper lifestyle, live for the end, live as God wants you to. What is important is your relationship with God. And God calls you to model Christ's lifestyle.

In the Philippian lesson this morning, Paul prays that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless...having produced the harvest of righteousness.

In the third lesson read this morning, John the Baptizer, a New Testament prophet in the Old Testament tradition, appeared on the scene. An imposing figure, John came out of the wilderness, dressed in camel skins, eating locusts and wild honey. John had a stern message, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Prepare the way of the Lord, he proclaimed. The Lord is coming, get your act together. Walk the talk. John was especially relevant to his age, and he called not only the people to live accountably, but the leaders as well, which eventually led to his death.

Our Scripture readers this morning did a great job pronouncing the names. Not only did they have difficult names, they were difficult people, fit candidates for the rogues' gallery. Tiberius, Pontius Pilate and Herod were notorious for their cruelties, their treacheries and their callous disregard for others. Tiberius was despised and mistrusted by his own political cronies and finally resorted to trumped-up treason trials to keep his opponents in order. Pilate was renowned for playing both ends against the middle---cheating his Roman bosses and abusing his Judean subjects. Herod was insanely paranoid and ended up having three of his own sons and one of his wives executed because he suspected them of plotting against him. He also executed John the Baptizer.

The religious leaders were not much better. Annas, the high priest, was hardly more than a lackey of the Roman authorities, having sold out any moral persuasiveness his position might have still held. What he did accomplish was getting Rome to appoint his family to the temple priesthood--five sons and his son-in-law Caiaphas.

Into such a corrupt climate came John the Baptizer preaching integrity, honesty, right living. When his converts were convicted by his preaching, they asked him what they should do. They asked him what does it mean to repent. He replied, Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. (Luke 3:11). He told the tax collectors to stop cheating by overtaxing and keeping the difference. He told the soldiers to stop intimidating and extorting from the people. John called the people to live for the end, to live God's way. His message and his criticism cost him his life. He was arrested by Herod's soldiers and executed.

Yet today it still costs to live God's way and do God's will. Worshiping with us this morning is Loretta Gruver. Loretta is a United Methodist missionary nurse in Ganta Hospital in Liberia. There is a Civil War in Liberia, and Loretta has been in great danger. On September 9 of this year, four Roman Catholic nuns sought refuge at the hospital. The next day at 2 a.m. armed men demanded money and threatened to kill them. Loretta handed them some money through a window, and she and the nuns slept all huddled on the floor in the hall, but they felt God's protection. Two days later the town came under attack. Loretta and the nuns ran through swamp rice and hid in the Leprosarium. At 2 a.m. soldiers attacked the building, breaking down doors, taking people and equipment. But, the door of the room where Loretta and the nuns were hiding did not break.

When it became quiet, about 10:30 a.m., the women left. They again felt God's protection as they fled through swamp rice, and walked three miles to the border where they bribed their way out with $180. Loretta wrote, "My heart is in Liberia. I feel if I talk and write about Liberia, the work there can be continued. Something is going to have to happen to make everyone put down their arms."

The days of heroism are not over. The days of martyrdom are not over. The days of taking stands for Christ and suffering the consequences are not over. The days when honesty, integrity, and compassion are desperately needed are not over. Can the world tell by your life, by the way you live, you are ahead of your time, you are living for the end? Prepare the way of the Lord.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris