Ruts, Old Tapes, and End Times (text version)

Ruts old tapes end timesRuts, Old Tapes, and End Times  This is the sermon text version of the message first preached at Plymouth Congregational Church of Racine on August 10, 2014

Have you ever had the experience of trying to remember something and an answer comes to mind that is close-but-no-cigar and suddenly that’s the only answer you can think of—even though you know it’s wrong?  Your mind gets in a mental rut and you can’t think of any other answer, usually until around 2 o’clock in the morning when you wake up and remember the answer but you seem to have forgotten what the question was?

Ruts can be problematic for each of us, Christian or not.  The disciples—the 11 remaining since Judas was dead—had just heard Jesus command “Don’t Leave, but Wait!” and should have been experiencing the Woo-hoo of anticipation!  But they were in a rut.

Today, mindful that it is Communion Sunday, we will take a brief look at the totally new thing Jesus was doing and three dangers that might impede our ability to see the new things Jesus has in mind.

What are these 3 dangers?  Ruts.  Old Tapes.  And a preoccupation with the End Times.  Getting stuck in any one of those acts like the molasses swamp in Candy Land where you’re stuck there and can’t get out until the red card is drawn and it never seemed to arise.  Stuck.  No way of getting out.

Ruts.  Old Tapes.  End Times, 3 trip hazards or pitfalls in the progress of the Church and Jesus had to deal with the disciples on this before the Church even got started.

To set the stage, Jesus has just finished with commanding “Don’t leave but wait!  The Holy Spirit is the gift worth waiting for…” and you’d expect the disciples to break into a happy dance or at least be on the lookout for this gift all the while asking, “Are we there yet?”

Nope.  What do the disciples do?

Acts 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

This is a rebuke and the 1st century Jesus version of a face-palm.  These disciples—Jesus must have wondered, are they really reliable enough to get the Church going??  If I’d been Jesus, which clearly I’m not, I would have asked the Father to revisit whether this plan was really the best we could do.  Entrusting the growth of the Kingdom and the fate of the entire church to such a group of closed-minded people who weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer.  Jesus talks about the Kingdom OF God and these disciples are still there asking about the Kingdom TO IsraelArrgh!

And yet, in some odd way…because the Holy Spirit was coming…we ARE God’s best plan for growing the Church even though we have ruts and old tapes and end times preoccupations that are not unlike that of the disciples.

What might be some of our Ruts?  Do any of these fit?

  • We’ve ALWAYS done it THIS way.
  • Oh, we tried that way back when and it didn’t work.
  • So and so used to do this, but now we don’t have anyone to do this anymore.  No one can do it like So-and-so did.

A few years back—when I was in seminary actually—we were asked to read some things to provoke theological thinking.  One of those items was The Revelations of Divine Love — a 14th-century book of devotions written by Christian mystic Julian of Norwich. She had sixteen mystical visions called “Shewings” and in those, she contemplated universal love of God for mankind and tried to communicate hope in a time of plague, religious schism, uprisings and war, times—interestingly—not unlike ours. Published in 1395, it is the first published book in the English language to be written by a woman.  Which of course, that all by itself made many of my classmates throw up their hands in utter disgust and then point their fingers at the few women in the class and say, “See?  This is why women shouldn’t do theology!”  Their ruts were well-formed.

I disagreed with much of what Julian of Norwich wrote, but there is one image she painted that has stuck with me:  It is the image of a Servant and she writes, “Which sight was shewed doubly in the Lord and doubly in the Servant: the one part was shewed spiritually in bodily likeness, and the other part was shewed more spiritually, without bodily likeness.”

She continues to describe the Lord as both Father and Son…and the Servant as both Adam and the Second Adam Jesus.  The Servant Adam is sent to do the Lord’s will and she writes,

The Servant not only he goeth, but suddenly he starteth, and runneth in great haste, for love to do his Lord’s will. And anon he falleth into a slade, and taketh full great hurt.”  (A slade is a rut.  And this Servant, the first Adam could not get out.  He was facedown and stuck.  Julian continues), “then he groaneth and moaneth and waileth, and struggleth, but he neither may rise nor him himself by no manner or way.”

In her vision she understood that he felt pain and heaviness of body, feebleness, blindness in reasoning, stunned by the fall enough to almost forget his own love.  He was stuck, he could not get out and the two things that concluded her assessment of this Servant’s situation was that “he lay all alone and it was a long, hard, grievous place”.

Anyway, the point of this is that the rut is a problem.  It required Jesus entering into humanity’s rut and the love of God working a miracle at the Cross for us to experience a return to the loving presence of the Father.  Julian reflected up on the plight of man writing, “Of all this most mischief that I saw him in, was failing of comfort: for he could not turn his face to look upon his loving Lord which was to him full near, –in Whom is full comfort;–but as a man that was feeble and unwise for the time, he turned his mind to his feeling and endured in woe.”

The idea that we’re in a rut, facedown, and cannot even look to see the face of our loving Lord, our loving Father in Whom we can know all comfort, that rut is a very clear image of where people are at—even today!

The disciples were in a rut.  They didn’t quite get it that Jesus was about to ascend to heaven and that the great gift of the Holy Spirit was going to be His ongoing presence with them in a whole new way.  They didn’t quite get that there was a parenthesis of time between the Resurrection/Ascension and the time of Jesus’ return.  To them, Jesus was back.  He rose from the dead.  There was a new sheriff in town and He was going to do exactly what their old tapes said He’s supposed to do.  The same thing that the Old Tapes before the Crucifixion were suggesting.  Political overthrow.  Kingdom establishment and the Vindication of Israel.  Old Tapes on perpetual repeat.

It was like a skipping record.  Old Tapes, ruts of thinking that said the Crucifixion and Resurrection were just unnecessary blips between what the Old Tapes said about restoring the Kingdom and restoring the Kingdom and restoring the Kingdom and restoring the Kingdom…

Jesus wanted for them to understand that the Old Tapes needed to go because it wasn’t about Restoring an old sinful Kingdom.  It was going to be a whole new thing!  Their confidence must be transferred away from sinful humanity’s solutions of politics and overthrow….and instead, to place their total confidence in what God has done through Jesus.

What are our Old Tapes that undermine our confidence?  Maybe something from your childhood like

  • Why can’t you be like your sister, your brother, the neighbor’s child or the perfect kid from school?
  • Why can’t you do better at math, science, writing, praying, going to Bible study, being better behaved?

Or maybe from your current experience?

  • You tried that before.  Remember how you failed.
  • You’re too old to do that.
  • Women don’t…men don’t….
  • You have no power against a culture that’s plowing ahead and face it: you’re stuck back in the 1950s.
  • Or how about this Old Tape:

God let you down before.  He’ll let you down now.

Jesus says to throw away all those Old Tapes!  Anything that undermines your confidence in Him and Him alone.  Anything that says you can save yourself.  Throw it out.

Ruts and Old Tapes are dangerous indeed, to the growth of the Church!  But there’s also the danger, the trip hazard, the pitfall of focusing on the End Times.  You see, the disciples were so focused on what happens at the end of time that they failed to realize that they were just embarking upon the nearly 2000 year window of the Church that you and I can see has already constituted “the last days.”

There’s a lot of work that has been done in spreading the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth in the past centuries.  And there’s more work to do before He returns.

By focusing on the End Times and relying upon our Old Tapes and Ruts of theology we can act as though we’ve got all the answers and now we just wait for Jesus to come surfing in on the clouds.

I’ve actually been in a bit of a theological discussion with a Christian brother on the Internet.  His focus on the end times—ignoring the interim time frame—and his self-assurance of knowing how God saves people means that evangelism becomes completely unnecessary.  To people like him, God has elected some for salvation and some for damnation and there’s nothing that can be done to save the damned.  Therefore the days of the elect are devoted to thinking “Praise God I’m saved! And now I’ll just sit on my hands until the angels sing and Jesus tells me all the reasons why He chose…ME!”… like it was a divine basketball team and Jesus and Satan were picking sides for the big game at the end of time.

This is the outcome of ignoring that there’s window of time in which God is building the Church—it’s not over yet!  The Kingdom is still advancing and He’s using regular people do to it…by sharing the Good News.

Pitfalls, trip-hazards exist!  We have ruts, old tapes and end times.  Worse yet, our culture exploits those and increasingly finds ways of turning Christians inside out.

What used to be private: sex lives and sins and nasty thoughts toward one another are suddenly becoming public consumption.  We see Sex, Lies and Video Tapes all over the media.  People use Twitter and Facebook to say nasty things they would never say in person.  Private thoughts become public consumption with a virtual distance/anonymity to give us the illusion of covering our shame.

And yet, what used to be PUBLIC—our religious beliefs—after all there was a time that the church building was the center of every town.  Town meetings were held there…why??  Because it was the only space big enough to hold a whole town because for people of that day, religion was a public thing.  What used to be PUBLIC we’re now increasingly told must remain private.  Irrespective of what you think of these individual items, let’s just note that in aggregate they are serving to privatize the Christian faith.  No Nativity Scenes or Christmas trees in the public square.  No proselytizing about Jesus.  No 10 Commandments anywhere.  No Christian references in public schools.  No education about why freedom of religion was authored to protect the citizenry—not to silence us.

Now we have nothing but equal time for everyone in our culture because everything is *relatively* true…for someone…and the rut of thinking that is being well-formed by our culture is that you’re a bigot—and an ignorant backward person too—if you say anything about Jesus’ being THE ONLY WAY.  Culture says to keep your opinions to yourself.  Privatize your religion, the culture shouts!  It’s been banished from the public square to the closed doors of one’s bedside as if Christianity ought to be a sign of shame.  Fear of being ostracized is a huge rut and danger to the growth of the Kingdom.

We must be willing to dispense with Ruts, Old Tapes, and End Times.  We must place our confidence in Christ and be willing to engage with our culture while there is yet time.  Jesus says that Acts 1:7 “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

Until then, there’s work to be done and if we’ll just get rid of Ruts, Old Tapes and End Times preoccupations…and place our total confidence in Jesus Christ, we’re just the disciples to do it!  Amen?  Let’s pray.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on August 15, 2014

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