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Nearing The End!
November 30, 1997

1 PETER 4:1-11

Yes, weíre nearing the end! The end of the sermon series on 1 Peter (no applause, please). Weíre nearing the end of the century, and the end of the age! 1 Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is near." This is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the church year. Last night was New Yearís Eve in the Christian calendar! Did you party? Drum on the pots and pans? Blow stupid whistles? It would have been an appropriate time to party because Advent is the beginning of the end. During the season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. We celebrate the first advent of the Lord when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and we anticipate and prepare ourselves for the second advent, when this earth as we know it comes to an end, when Christ comes in final triumph.

How comforting these words of Peter must have been to those early Christians who lived with the threat of death. The persecution of Christians was a constant threat. Hang in there, Peter encouraged. Keep the faith. Donít give up, because "the end of all things is near." However, the end didnít come in their lifetime. It is now almost 2,000 years later, and the end hasnít come. So, what do these words mean to us today?

As we near the turn of the century, Iím afraid the kooks are going to come out of the woodwork. Already we are seeing signs of hysteria, as if there is something cataclysmic about one century ending and another beginning. Somehow theyíve forgotten that calendars are human inventions. Calendars are human attempts to put some order on time. The sun cooperates by rising and setting within a 24-hour period, but the moon just wonít cooperate to give us easy measurement. There have been many calendars throughout history. Most of the world is now following the same one we are, but thereís nothing divine about it. In fact, if something significant was supposed to happen on the 2,000th birthday of Jesus, it already happened. Most scholars agree there is an error in the calendar, and Jesus was probably born in 4 BC, which means Jesusí 2000th birthday was in 1996. But, oh well, when one wants to get excited about the end of the world, logic and fact do not have a very large role to play!

Actually, the end is already here, but it isnít over! We have been living in the end time ever since Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Through the resurrection, God defeated the forces of evil; but, the devil doesnít know it. He wonít admit defeat, and is frantically pulling out all the stops, attacking with every kind of evil he can dream up! Itís like any team that plays against the 49ers! We know they are beaten, they know they are beaten, but they play anyway, and the game isnít over until the final whistle blows.

To put it another way, we have been saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, an event in the past. We are being saved through our present relationship with Christ as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. We will be saved when the final whistle blows, the final judgment is pronounced, and the evil forces have been soundly defeated. To put it yet another way, God is, was, and will be. We are saved by the One who was, the One who is, and the One who is to come.

We are living in the end time. What it is like for us to live in the end time is like the migration of English sparrows. English sparrows, each weighing about an ounce and a quarter, twice each year take off into the unknown, committing themselves to the air and flying over the ocean where there are no landmarks to give them any guidance. We also have taken off, flying towards the end. We are on a spiritual journey. We have no idea where we are going. There are all kinds of difficulties we cannot foresee. The birds follow their instincts with a blind trust. We put our blind trust in Jesus who leads us. We let go and let the wind (the Holy Spirit) keep us afloat and take us to our new home.

What sustains us is hope, promise, and faith. Where we end up is up to God. Exciting! In 1993, our church budget was $226,000. The proposed budget we adopted for 1998 is $371,000! From $226,000 to $371,000 in five years! Weíre flying-- with blind trust! Exciting, isnít it; but scary as well. Many of us would just as soon stay on the ground among the old and familiar. But, if you stay on the ground, you miss the flight. If you stay with what was, and donít fly and soar with what is, you will miss what is to come!

There is a certain amount of urgency in "nearing the end." A woman excitedly said to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The world is coming to an end!" Emerson replied, "Thatís quite alright; we can get along very well without it!" But, if you are clinging to the world, clinging to what was, trusting in the old and familiar, what will happen to you when the world as we know it ends? If you are not flying with Jesus in blind trust, where will you be when the ground is taken away?

What is missing in too many of our churches today is a sense of urgency. William Willimon, Chaplain of Duke University, tells of a man who lived with his family near a church Willimon was pastoring. The manís yard was always a mess. His children were poorly cared for. Rumors were he got drunk on Saturdays, abused his wife, cursed his children. The church decided to help him. Pastor Willimon visited the home. Some of the youth went by and invited his kids to go with them on their trip to the mountains. The United Methodist Women invited his wife to the annual Day of Prayer. The family came to church for a few Sundays, then quit coming.

A few months later, Willimon met the man on the street. At first he didnít know him, he looked different. "Joe, is that you?" Willimon asked. "Yea, itís me," he said with a smile. "At least, itís mostly me. Iíve changed." His whole physical appearance had changed. He looked great. His yard even looked good. What had happened? Joe told him how a group had come by to pray with him after they heard he had been on a binge. A church group, but not from Willimonís nice, middle-class Methodist church. They were from a church across the tracks, a premillenial, fire baptized, Holy Ghost, washed-in-the-blood church. They told him if he didnít stop drinking and beating his wife, he was going to burn forever in hell. They told him God was coming to get him and that God was mad.

They got his attention. He went to their church where they prayed for him by name and asked God to let him live just a little longer until they could get him saved. He got saved, turned inside out, upside down. Redeemed. Willimon told him he was sorry his church had been unable to meet his needs, but happy that their church had. "Preacher," Joe said, "Donít feel bad. Your church gave me aspirin. I needed massive chemotherapy!"

Notice the urgency. They asked God to let him live a little longer until they could get him saved. They asked God to hold off the end just a while longer, because there is so much to do. There are people here this morning who need to get your lives in order, work out some relationships, set new priorities, enter into a personal relationship with Jesus. Lord, donít blow the whistle to end the game yet. Weíve a story to tell, a song to sing, a message to give. There isnít much time. We are nearing the end. Itís urgent! We are surrounded by people in Merced who need to be won over to Christ. We have an After School ministry to put together because there are children who need Jesus. We have a Saturday evening service to put together that will attract younger people because they need Jesus. They donít need aspirins. They need massive chemotherapy!

Peter said, "The end of all things is near; therefore be serious." Two weeks ago we studied the survival ethics Peter taught his people, how slaves had to obey masters, and wives obey husbands in order to survive. Last week we looked at what a church needs to be in order to sustain and support one another as we turn difficulties into blessings. In the next passage, the one read this morning, Peter teaches us about Ethics in the End Time. 4:7-11, "The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received....so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To God belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen."

Weíre nearing the end! Are you ready?

ã 1997 Douglas I. Norris