KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE TIME
Dear Christian friends,
How do you know what Scripture you are going to preach on a Sunday, Pastor? The Bible doesn’t assign any readings to any particular Sunday, but we do know that in Old Testament temple worship there were psalms that were sung and readings that were assigned to particular Sabbath Days. We don’t know who did it or how it was done, but it was done. Usually there was a reading from the Torah, one of the first five books of the Bible written by Moses; there was also a reading from the prophets. As the New Testament church developed readings were gradually chosen for specific Sundays. We call these chosen readings a pericope. It is a Greek word that means “cut out.” A section of Scripture was “cut out” and read during specific days in the church year.
Back in 1965 Lutherans from various synods got together to develop a set of readings called the ILCW pericope. It is now commonly used. The acronym stands for Inter-Lutheran Committee on Worship. The readings are found on pages 163-165 in the hymnal. There were three sets of readings labeled years A, B and C. Each Sunday has an Old Testament Lesson, an Epistle lesson and a Gospel lesson. Two are read and one is usually the subject of the sermon. I have been using them regularly for years except for the summer when I do my own selections.
If you turn one page more to Page 166 in the hymnal, you will see the word “Lectionary” and “One Year Series.” This set of readings is unique. These reading are better known as the Historic Pericope. This set of readings started well before the days of the Reformation in the 1500’s. All of us who are older probably heard these readings when we were kids. When I attended the Seminary I remember a professor urge us as we began our ministries with readings from the Historic Pericope. I did that but switched to the ILCW pericope. As I am getting to the sunset of my ministry I want to preach the Historic Pericope one more time. This is my goal as we are at the beginning of the new Church year with Advent. It means he comes. He is coming again so you need to “Keep Your Eye on the Time.” 1) Beware of the time; 2) Be prepared for the end of time; 3) Behave as we await the time.
A country singer who has been in heaven for some time sang a country song that went like this:
Some people say a man is made outta' mud
A poor man's made outta' muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong.
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt;
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go,
I owe my soul to the company store.
The song is about the life of a coal miner. You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt! He missed something! You may get a day older and get a day deeper in debt, but you also get another day closer to meeting the Lord.
The Holy Spirit moved the apostle Paul to write, “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Be aware of time. Time is running out.
The early Christian church seems like they had a much keener sense of the end of time than the church of 2015. Every minute, hour and day that passes moves us closer. I don’t think that’s true today. It shouldn’t be that way. God does not lie. God is very serious when he says that the end will come.
The warnings are even in the Old Testament. In the book of Malachi, “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty.” Three centuries earlier God wrote through Isaiah, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” The Lord means what he says and says what he means. Don’t doubt it. Don’t be skeptical. That’s sin. You can doubt the promises of man but never the promises of God. Beware of time.
Prepare for the end of time. Many professional athletes have a hard time moving on from their athletic careers. After they retire all too often their lives end because of addictions or unhealthy habits, some with drugs, some with alcohol and some with depression. Some psychologists say that many of these athletes have had their egos stroked for so many years they can’t cope when the cheers and adulation of fans go silent. They were not prepared.
Paul says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Are you prepared? Paul compares life with the night. On the other hand, Judgment Day is daylight when the night is over. Darkness is also a common way of speaking of sin and all the problems that go along with it. The events in San Bernardino prove it again. On the other hand, light is identified with the Lord and faith in the Lord. Ultimately darkness will end with our life in heaven. We must use this time to get ready.
When I worked in Montana in my college days, my job took me to a little city in southern Alberta, Canada called Waterton Lakes. There was a pub we would go to for a something to eat and to drink. It was a fun place to go with friends. One rule they had was that only men could go through the front door. Ladies were admitted, but they had to go through a side door. It was part of the fun. They had another custom. You had to order two glasses of beer at a time. Why? Because if the Queen walked in, you could offer her one. Can you imaging the Queen drinking beer in a pub that only let her come in the side door?
The preparation was all in fun. What is coming is very serious. Serious preparation needs to be made. “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” You and I have an old sinful nature inside of us. Different translations of the Bible use different terms -- Old Adam, sinful nature, sinful flesh, old self, darkness. We sin because of that nature. It all goes back to our first parents. Their sin certainly changed everything.
But Paul also says “Put on the armor of light.” He says, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” No, you don’t go to Kohls or Nordstroms and find the Jesus rack, you remember your Baptism; you receive the Lord’s Supper; you knock any and all dust off the outside of your Bible and get into the inside.
Across the altar you were fitted with the robes of Jesus’ righteousness at a baptismal fount like that one. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
You come to the altar often to receive Christ’s body and blood as Jesus personalizes forgiveness to you by giving his shed body and blood.
Don’t neglect the Word which calls on you to repent of sin and then invites you to believe all the promises God gives in his Word, promises of total and eternal forgiveness in Christ Jesus. That’s how you prepare.
So be aware of the time, be prepared for his coming, and finally behave. “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Look at the sins people struggled with two thousand years ago. Has anything changed?
These sins focus on personal pleasure rather than on taking pleasure in serving and worshipping the Lord the Lord, getting mind off self and onto the Lord.
Don’t spend time – carousing and in drunkenness. In the days of the apostle it was common to have drunken people parading through cities uselessly honoring the god of wine, Bacchus. Today we call it New Year’s Eve, Mardi Gras or the office Christmas party. I read that according to the Department of Labor $23,547 is spent by an average American on alcohol during a lifetime. Let me emphasize that it is not wrong to have a beer - everything in moderation - but how many Americans even give $23,547 dollars to the Lord in a lifetime or has read 23, 547 pages of Scripture?
Paul says put off “sexual immorality and debauchery.” The old King James Version of the Bible translated this. It says “put off chambering and wantonness.” That almost sounds politically correct. The original Greek word refers to “going to bed,” and not to sleep, and not to be with one’s spouse. The word is what Hollywood portrays as natural and exciting. God calls it a damnable sin.
Sinclair Lewis, famous writer and Pulitzer Prize winner, once received a letter from a young and very pretty woman who wanted to become his secretary. She said she could type and file and do anything else he wanted. She included a last line that said, “When I say anything, I mean anything.” Lewis turned the letter over to his wife, Dorothy. She wrote back, “Mr. Lewis already has an excellent secretary who can type and file. I do everything else, and when I say everything, I mean everything.”
And what about debauchery? That Greek word can be translated “licentiousness.” We get the word license from it. In other words the sinful self says that there is a license or permission to do anything that it wants with no restrictions or boundaries.
Stop Christian! Behave yourself as a child of God wants to do.
We see the commercials on TV about our military and police. When there is trouble you see people running and fleeing from the trouble. Our military and police runs at it. That’s what they are called to do.
As children of God with old and new nature, the sinful self likes to run toward sin; as children of God who know God’s love in Christ run too but run away.
What great words Paul has to say to us today! Keep your eye on the time. Beware of the time; be prepared for the end; behave yourself as a child of God.