Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like 1000 years and a 1000 years are like a single day. The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise,a s some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.
What does that mean?
If God doesn’t want anyone to perish, can’t God make it so no one will perish?
If God doesn’t want anyone to perish, why do some people persist in making God out to be mean, bloodthirsty, or eager to condemn some people to hell?
If God doesn’t want anyone to perish, Don’t you suppose that guilt you carry around, that voice that whispers to you that you haven’t done enough, or you aren’t good enough, is NOT coming from God?
I hope you’ll listen for the voice of God; especially this time of year. It is hard, because we want to anticipate. What we don’t know we make up and plan accordingly, sometimes with leaving us with deep despair, frustration, and even anger.
Today’s reading in 2 Peter joins Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13 from last week, and fills our over-graphic-induced brains with imaginations based more on Hal Lindsey, Tim Lahaye, and Jerry Jenkins than on scripture.
Sure; there is the fear-invoking, imagination-inducing language of ”But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.”
But, I hope you noticed, Peter follows immediately with this question: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be?
Great question, Peter!
“You must live holy and godly lives, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. He continues in v. 14: Therefore, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found by him in peace – pure and faultless.”
There we go: live holy and godly lives, make every effort to be found by him in peace, pure, and faultless. I think a reasonable shorthand for that is “trying to follow Jesus better today than yesterday.”
As we approached Y2K (remember that?), sales in Christian bookstores (that was, for all practical purposes, before Amazon), sales of books and videos about the end of the world boomed.
They rose precipitously again immediately after 9-11.
Now, here’s an interesting thing I hope you’ll help me figure out. Immediately after 9-11, crime rates and suicide rates plummeted. The number of new prescriptions for antidepressants dropped.
Why? The country pulled together to counteract and resist evil.
And what did Christians do? Well, hopefully most of us joined with everyone else and prayed and worked and hugged a little extra.
But we also suddenly bought more books about prophecy and the end of the world.
Why? I believe because we have an anticipation problem. We passively anticipate what God’s going to do, and sit on our hands.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, God’s people had been anticipating the coming of the Messiah for quite some time. and they did so with varying amounts of energy and intensity. Sime nearly paralyzed by anticipation and expectation, others going on with life almost as if Messiah would never come.
But there was this strong stream in Judaism of the day which taught that God’s people were to practice living as if Messiah was coming tomorrow.
Can you imagine Mary and Joseph trekking to Bethlehem – she very pregnant, he likely uncertain exactly what was going on. Yet they proceeded.
Anticipation can paralyze. If I just sit and wait, and make up stuff in my head about what’s going to happen and what isn’t. But Anticipation doesn’t have to paralyze. Mary and Joseph responded to the good and great news they had been given with a dedication to do what they needed to do.
Anticipation of Christmas expectations can paralyze us. Or they can send us into a downward,darkward spiral. Or Anticipation can draw us toward the wonderful event that we recognize at Christmas. The event that HAS happened, and that can happen again in us and among us.
Today, we want to make sure that anticipation propels us to action. We don’t want anticipation to paralyze us.
For example, like it did me when I was a teenager. And I presume I’m not the only one this happened to. Working up the courage to ask a girl out. Or even just to call her. I’ve heard that kind of anticipation works both ways – that it isn’t gender specific.
I got to re-live all that about 15 years ago, when I found myself single again at around 40.
To my surprise, it hadn’t changed much. Dial all but the last digit of her phone number, and pace my parsonage. Was I ready for this? Ok, what would I say? “Hi, it’s Steve.” No, too obvious. Everyone had caller id, she’d know it was me! How about a joke? Will she like a joke? Not too funny. Not too corny, either.
Dial the number. Hang up quickly.
Dial the number, actually listen to it ring. Get voicemail, hang up. Realize 2.3 seconds later that she has caller id. Now she’ll get home, see that you called, and that you hung up on her answering machine!
How does this end well?
I don’t know about for you, but for me all that ended well ‘cause I married Rachel.
But has it really ended?
Sure, the anticipation of will she answer the phone, will she go out with me, will she say yes, etc., may be behind us, but oh, the anticipation doesn’t die so easily.
And you know what I’m talking about, whether or not you are married or ever have been or ever want to be. You know because you also anticipate. Make up scenarios in your mind about how things will or won’t work out. Many of us not only run these scenarios, almost constantly, through our minds, but also bring God into the equation.
We make up what we are going to do, what other people are going to do, and what God is going to do. Or what God will think. Or how God will be disappointed.
I don’t know about you, but I had a much easier time on my wedding day picturing an awesome future with Rachel than I did when I was holding my phone, one number away from dialing, wondering what might happen.
Yet, some of us enter marriage with a very similar plan as when we’re summoning the courage to make that first call. Or text. Or WhatsApp, or whatever.
Some of us enter marriage with an expectation that we’ve done this, now it will just happen. We’ll live “happily ever after.” Everything will be awesome. Maybe we watch videos or read stories about the “perfect” marriages and think that’ll just happen to us.
You don’t have to be married more than maybe a week before you see life doesn’t work that way.
A good life, a good relationship, doesn’t just happen. You can’t anticipate your way into it.
It takes work. It takes effort. It requires patience with yourself and with the other.
You have to dedicate yourself to it, to others.
Let’s walk away from anticipation this morning, and move toward dedication.
You see, while 2 people may actually DECIDE to get married, being married isn’t a decision; it is a commitment. A dedication.
A good, healthy marriage requires numerous decisions – thousands over the years, and multiple decisions a day.
Kinda like baptism.
Which brings us to the Gospel reading for the day. Jesus is baptized. Baptism isn’t a decision to get wet. Baptism is a commitment, a dedication, to a way of life. That’s why when we baptize babies, we all commit to doing all we can to
“Surround that child with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others.” We agree – we commit – to “pray for them that they may be true disciples.”
They can’t possibly follow Jesus on their own. Not now, not when they’re grown up, either. Because when they grow up, they start to anticipate, rather than dedicate.
Remember what Peter calls us to do? Live holy and godly lives, make every effort to be found by him in peace, pure, and faultless.
This will take dedication! Which might start with a decision, but one decision is never enough.
John Wesley was challenged by some free-church traditioned people on his support of infant baptism. These were people who practiced “believer’s baptism’ – that people were baptized only after their own profession of faith, not as infants or small children. They asked Wesley: “Do you think they can rely on that experience as a baby so many years later when they are an adult?” they asked.
“No more,” Wesley answered, “than I would say that someone baptized at age 21, who arrives at the age of 30 with no other evidence of God in his or her life, ought to count on that singular experience.”
One decision does not a dedication make. But one decision can be a first step to a commitment, to a dedication. To thousands more decisions along the same way. Eugene Peterson has a magnificent book titled, “A long obedience in the same direction.” The subtitle is “Discipleship in an instant age.” And that was written in 1980.
Instant has only gotten instanter. We need a long obedience in the same direction. We need dedication, not just decision. We need to let go of our anticipation, and follow Jesus.
So I’m going to invite you to do something. Yes, I know, this is just one decision, one action, but it can be the start of a long obedience in the same direction. It can be the start of a dedication replacing a decision. It can be taking up the commitment you made, or that was made for you, at your baptism. It can also be a jump-start. Maybe you’ve been dedicated before, but that’s grown cold. Or distant.
I invite you simply to mark on your connection card that you are interested in moving from anticipATE to dedicATE; from decision to dedication.
We are going to start a process in the new year, an historic, Wesleyan process, that will give everyone who is interested the opportunity to dedicate themselves – their lives – to trying to follow Jesus better today than yesterday.
I hope you’ll consider it.