Sunday, December 2, 2012

Luke 21:25-36

“Overcoming Dullness”
MasterPiece Church
02 December 2012

Lord, we thank you for your word to us and acknowledge that you would like to use it again to speak to us. So we open our hearts and our minds and our desires so that our actions would be affected as well. Amen.

When we were kids in school we spent a lot of time drilling for emergencies. What kinds of emergency drills did you have?

  • fire drill
  • earthquake
  • air raid
  • incoming Russian missile

I don’t suppose any of you had Zombe drills?

Given the current fascination with the mythical zombie and the end of the world projected by some who see the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st -- 20 days from now as somehow significant -- several emergency service agencies have been holding disaster drills built around a zombie theme. For example this is from San Diego’s Channel 10 news.
SAN DIEGO - You can call it disaster training with a dose of the undead. San Diego hosted a zombie invasion on Halloween night and the creatures were invited.

Amid gunfire, zombies mobbed a Third World village. In the middle of the chaos was a top official with an aid organization surrounded by security details. Dozens of military, law enforcement, first responders and actors battled against a so-called "zombie apocalypse."

The drill was part of a 5-day counterterrorism summit organized by the HALO Corporation...The action was backed by Hollywood sets and special effects... In the scenario, the aid official and his personal detail are trapped in a village overrun by zombies when a bomb explodes. The aid official maneuvers through the town. Some of his detail are bitten and must be taken to a medical facility for treatment.

Organizers chose the zombie theme because the unpredictability of zombies compares to real dangers, like an out of control enemy.

Also, the dreaded zombie bites can help train for a chemical warfare attack. Another parallel was the carnage of a zombie apocalypse compared to the panic of a world disaster.

"Because it's a mass casualty type event, it could induce mass hysteria, so what better way to show that," said Kit Lavell.
I just don’t recall a zombie drill when I was a kid in school. But the schools were diligent about the other drills lest we all become dull and unable to perform when the inevitable time came. And many believed that it was all just a matter of time.

If you read the papers (that’s back when newspapers were printed on real paper and delivered in the dark each morning by 12-year old boys on bicycles) -- if you paid attention to the signs -- you would know that the attacks were inevitable. We lived that way. It formed how we thought -- and how we saw the world.

In our gospel text this morning Jesus is trying to get his listeners to be on watch so that they’re sharp and ready to deal with the inevitable disaster.

It’s the end times and or the fall of Jerusalem (which occurred in AD 70) that provide the immediate backdrop for this discussion.

In Luke 21 the discussion is prompted by the disciples’ field trip to the Jerusalem temple.

At the beginning of the chapter Jesus points to the offering of the widow who dropped her last two coin into the temple offering box as an example of true sacrifice. She is what Jesus’ kingdom is like.

Then in marked contrast to this humble expression of faith, the clueless disciples begin to comment about how beautiful the temple is -- the stonework -- the decorations --

Jesus is talking humility. They -- grandeur.

At that point Jesus interrupts and says:
Vs 6 -- "As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished."
The disciples are inclined to discuss the wonders of the established religious system -- perhaps dreaming of the time when Jesus and his new kingdom will take control of the temple and the temple system.

Jesus, however, sees something else on the horizon and he begins to point to times of turmoil... indicating that rather than the grandeur of the temple -- it is the turmoil, turbulence, and unrest that is the sign of imminent salvation.

Turmoil is the sign that God's redemption -- his salvation -- is near. And Jesus begins to rattle off a list of woes-- destruction of the temple, persecution, murder, the fall of Jerusalem to foreign armies -- and a trampling of the city by Gentiles.

Then in vss. 25-28 he says that the turmoil will be so great that even the heavens will be affected.
“There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.

27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”
Now this is very apocalyptic language -- which means it's very figurative and expressive of a greater reality. It is closer to the abstraction of modern art than the realism of renaissance painting. And apocalyptic language is not necessarily chronological in nature.

This type of language is more of a series of disjointed or random snapshots than video projections of a future story line.

These snapshots are woven together to make a point -- and that point is that turmoil is the sign that God's salvation is imminent.

Now, we tend to think that the kingdom of God grows with increased strength, ability, and stability -- American success. But Jesus attaches it to bedlam.

While the world points to the accomplishments of science, low inflation, opening of the world market, advances in health care -- all signs of the better times -- signs of a new and prosperous age -- Jesus says that the signs are better seen in the turmoil... turmoil which I suspect can be found in most any era--
Vs. 26--The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.

27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor.
“The Human One” or most often rendered “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite self-description. It has roots in Daniel 7:13-14 --
“As I continued to watch this night vision of mine, I suddenly saw one like a human being (son of Man) coming with the heavenly clouds. He came to the ancient one and was presented before him. 14 Rule, glory, and kingship were given to him; all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him. His rule is an everlasting one. And it will never pass away!—his kingship is indestructible.”
By the first century, the meaning of the term “son of man” had morphed a little. It had come to mean the ultimate human being. If Adam had failed to fully live into his humanity there would be a new man -- a superman who would live not only as the perfect human but the supreme human.

Even more so than Zombies the idea of a super human is showing up frequently in modern popular culture. If you recall from your philosophy 101 class, Friedrich Nietzsche the German philosopher of the 19th century, picked up on this idea with his Übermensch -- his superman.

  • The Übermensch then became the basis of the comic book hero Superman.
  • Hitler obsessed with creating and perfecting the Übermensch. Thus his Arian fixation. 
  • Ayn Rand the radically atheistic 20th century author tries to create an Übermensch in her character John Galt in Atlas Shrugged -- which seemed to be on so many politician’s reading lists recently. And it was recently released as a movie.

But they all failed to catch on to Jesus’ message that he is the Übermensch -- the superman -- the ultimate human -- “The Human One” -- the Son of man.

Now, of course, Jesus the Übermensch stands all the ideals of Nietzsche, Hitler, and Rand on their heads. The Savior isn’t a self-made highly individualized hero. He’s not a blonde blue-eyed genetically superior warrior being.

Their Übermensch is dull predictable and boring compared to Jesus. And according to Jesus -- even the turmoil of the world is pointing to the second coming of himself the Human One.
Vs 27 -- Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor.
The world sees the chaos as the basis for fear but Jesus calls it the sign of hope.
Vs 28 -- “Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”
Now, I'm sure all of this apocalyptic imagery in Luke 21 is a bit on the confusing side. It is for me! But that’s okay – it’s not suppose to be a blow by blow account. But it’s snapshots -- mystical impressions of the future to encourage us to do two things according to Jesus the Human One.

1. STAND UP STRAIGHT -- “Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight..." That is, put it all in perspective and be hopeful because even though there is garbage flying around us, things are not flying out of control.

To the contrary. These are signs of the fact that the world isn’t yet complete – but that the return coming of the Super Human – the Son of Man - is close. And with his return comes salvation in its fullness. “Your redemption is near...”

“So stand up straight” -- which is an awfully brazen thing to say to someone in a foxhole.

There is a second aspect of this message – and it’s this second aspect that we’re focusing on this morning.
“Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”
2. “RAISE YOUR HEADS...” means be alert. Raise your heads -- look around -- see what’s happening.

Look again at vss 34-35 –
“Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth.
Be prepared. Drill for it. Be sharp. Avoid letting the pleasures and the anxieties of life wear down your edge so that you are dulled.

Sometimes we ask all the wrong questions. “If God doesn’t want me to get drunk, how drunk is he talking about? Will I offend God if I’m just buzzed? Is there some kind of blood/alcohol ration that God maintains. What if you’re only .04?”

We’re missing the point. It’s not like we’re looking for ways to keep the rules. Rather God’s rules are in place to keep us sharp so that we’re hearing what he is saying and able to respond to his voice. The bigger picture goal isn’t to keep the rules but to stay sharp.

So the question shouldn’t be how much can I drink before I’m in violation of God’s standard? Rather, is what I’m doing sharpening my responsiveness toward God or is it dulling me to God? And this isn’t just about drinking -- but total lifestyle... where I work, how I work, what music I listen to, what books I read, how I spend my spare time, what I eat, what movies I watch, how I deal with neighbors...

The goal is to stay sharp -- to avoid taking the paths of least resistance that dull us down and make us unable to function in Jesus’ kingdom -- whether in the present or the future.

Vs. 36 –
“Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One.”

We drill for fires, atom bombs, missile attacks... terrorist, and zombies... We drill for emergencies. Are we drilling for Christ?

One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen occurred at a disaster drill.

A group of National Guardsmen are setting up a communications tent for the drill. They drive up in their truck -- while two guys are pulling equipment another is determining the perfect configuration. And then six guardsmen go at it -- scrambling, shifting, pulling ropes, handing off tools at just the right moment -- raising an antenna. In less than two minutes the shelter is up and a whole communication center with radio is functioning. It’s awesome.

Hey, I’m the guy who quit using a VCR not because the technology got old but because I could never program it right. These guys, and some were women, not only set up a tent but with it a pile of technology in two minutes.

I’m rubbing my eyes because I can’t believe what I just saw. It’s obvious that they’ve performed the same task over and over again hundreds of times in practice. They’ve gotten and stayed sharp.

When Jesus says “Stay alert at all times...” he’s not so much talking about watching for the signs. The signs are already obvious. Rather keep in practice.

Now, there are some Christians who think that preparing for the coming of Christ is a matter of watching for all the predicted details – and getting it all charted out. Some have made a history of that. And if you’re inclined to do that – well, that’s fine... After all, Jesus says that there are signs – just as the tree sprouts new leaves in the spring it’s a sign that summer is on the way. Although it’s been so warm that my black mission fig is starting to push new leaves in December! But generally speaking...

Well, there are signs -- and from our passage in Luke 21 -- those signs are turmoil in the world. But when Jesus says that we need to be on watch during these times, he’s really talking about maintaining a state of spiritual readiness.

That’s military talk for being awake at your post that is, doing your job while you’re there... being sharp... being attentive and watchful.

Being watchful means that you’re not watching TV while on guard duty... You’re not home playing Spartan Ops on Halo while you’re suppose to be out on patrol.

Lazy people are distracted while the enemy sneaks by.

There is actually an old English word for laziness at your post. Perhaps you’ve heard of SLOTH – great sounding word... And I would challenge you to use the word sloth sometime this week. If you are a student you’ll impress your teachers. If you tell them that you’re no sloth they will actually believe it. I’m sure it will be worth bonus points from someone.

Slothful people lack effort and spiritual fervor – they are lazy. They are inattentive, dull, and lacking in sharpness.

And a lot of us are dulled slothful people. I mean, it’s hard to stay alert when there are so many interesting distractions out there -- and I’ll tell you what they are as soon as I’m done checking my Facebook. Even regular old life anxieties and the craziness of the world around us can distract us from staying alert to what matters.

Well, how does someone know if they are sharp and alert?

There are many signs of spiritual dullness. Just to get your creative juices flowing I would like to quickly identify three. Three signs that you are in danger of succumbing to spiritual dullness.

1. DULL PEOPLE ASK MINIMIZING QUESTIONS. That is, they are inclined to ask just how much do I need to do to maintain good standing with God? What’s the bare minimum I need to do to maintain my fire insurance?

The very matter of asking the question in its various forms suggests that perhaps you don’t really have a real healthy relationship with God in the first place.

When we truly enter into a real and healthy relationship with God we eventually move from being minimalizing to being maximalists in our mentality.

We don’t even dream of asking what do I need to do to get by -- because we have allowed the HOLY SPIRIT to transform us to the point where we are preoccupied asking “What can I do to really live out the kingdom of God – here and now in my situation?


That is, they’ve given up on fighting the good fight.

In 1 Timothy 6:12 St Paul says: “Compete in the good fight of faith.”

People who are truly on guard – alert -- on watch -- are involved in a constant struggle -- and it’s not always with the enemy. Sometimes the struggle is with boredom – especially if you’re at a lonely post. Sometimes the struggle is with staying awake. Sometimes the struggle is with the many distractions around us.

Dulled and lazy people simply give in or give up and go with the flow -- “That’s just the way it is. I can’t do much about that.” OR “That’s just the way I am. I can’t do anything about that.”

Instead of dealing with temptation they give in to it.

If there is an ongoing sin issue in your life that doesn’t bother you – that is, you know that you’re doing something wrong but you find it easy to blow the whole thing off -- to ignore the little voice of conscience – then you are no longer being watchful and you are in danger.


In the gospel of Luke we have 20 chapters explaining who Jesus is and his kingdom agenda -- his mission expectations.

The way that we stay alert is by doing the kingdom agenda. If there is no concern for lost people... If there is no real concern for the poor -- the vulnerable -- the marginalized... We’ve become dull. We’ve lost our edge. We’re no longer sharp.

So here is the question – in light of all this – have you become a spiritual couch potato? Have you grown dull, lazy, and slothful?

I know that I’m at least a little bit on the lazy side. I really like the easy route – the struggle free life. But that’s why we have the season of Advent before Christmas.

This isn’t about trying to see how guilty we can make ourselves feel before the holidays. We’re pretty good at creating our own guilt.

No – the point is to see if we can remind ourselves of what we’re about, stir things up, and actually get things sharpened up again in our lives. And that’s what my goal is this morning -- to simply get you asking questions about your own state of spiritual sharpness -- not so you can feel guilty -- but so that you can get back on your feet, and to your post.

So here is the first thing to put on your Christmas to do list – CHECK FOR DULLNESS.

Listen to the word one more time – this time from Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase: Luke 21:34-36 (MSG) --
"But be on your guard. Don't let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, [35] for it's going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. [36] So, whatever you do, don't go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that's coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man."
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The "CEB" and "Common English Bible" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Common English Bible. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Common English Bible.

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