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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

A Bible and a Newspaper - 12/02/2018

Famously in little bubbles of God and Jesus talk, like Lutheran seminaries anyway, an old Protestant theologian once said “Take your Bible, take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” (Karl Barth, 1886-1968)

And so a lot people who preach regularly carry that into the pulpit striving to deliver the sermon with the bible in one hand the newspaper in another.

It’s helpful advice. I mean I’m sure I’m not the only who simply loves to hear the story that we now wait for as we enter into this season of Advent. The story of a little refugee baby born while his family is forcibly relocated – a baby born to be Savior of the nations. The story of how God announced that first and most dramatically to the humblest, least powerful, least expected people in the area – the shepherds.

“Do not be afraid,” an angel said to the trembling farm hands. “For see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:10-14)

God favors us people so much … and God has a particularly fond spot in that divine heart for the least among us.

I love this story, and so many other stories contained within the books that make up our bible.

And there are times, I think, when we need more than a story. We need God’s law and the lessons of our ancestors, including the hard ones. We need to hear the call of the prophets so we can learn to hear how God is calling us in our own lives.

There are many times in the course of our lives – maybe even in the course of a single day – when we need these scriptures to boldly remind us of the salvation we have in this vulnerable babe who will end up on the cross. We need to be inspired and instructed by this Word; reminded that we Jesus-followers are to live as completely humbled, and ridiculously generous and caring people in the wake of the freedom from sin we receive in the bread and the wine of His supper table.

In this respect especially, I believe the advice of this old Protestant theologian gives us some solid direction. Some of you may practice something like this already … we try to understand what we read in the newspaper through the framework of the Bible. And we find direction and wisdom in both God’s law and God’s Gospel in the Bible, which may inspire us to respond to what we read in the newspaper… to respond formed by the Bible, and most importantly for us Christians, to respond in the spirit of how Jesus would have us act.

The Bible and current times go hand-in-hand. It’s what has made these ancient books relevant when they were written and now, and every time in between.

This is an awesome resource we have at our fingertips. As someone charged with the responsibility of Christian education, I don’t think I could ever stress this enough.

This way of holding our scriptures and our present times together has the power to take what is good and pleasing to God in our lives and lift it up, give it wings, make it contagious and life-giving beyond our imaginations. It also has the power to call out the ways evil works through our lives and in all the systems we have added to God’s world … and then, surprisingly and powerfully … speak a word of redemption and freedom into that evil. It crushes it.

So yeah … if you don’t already do this in some way, I invite you to try. See what happens. See how it shifts the way you understand what you read and hear and see in the news. Use it to help hear more clearly the way the way God is calling you. And then go forward with the confidence that God stands ready to lift up your life’s witness to love God and love neighbor, especially the most vulnerable neighbors, like that little brown baby we will lay in a manger here in just a few short weeks.

OK, so all that being said, I have to admit that applying this old Protestant theologian’s advice to today’s Gospel reading can feel a bit alarming. And since sometimes, that’s how God speaks to us, I decided to put on my big girl pants and go for it … What would we see if we very literally held this text up next to some headlines?

So first, listen again to the alarming signs Jesus lays out for his followers in our reading today. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (21.25-27a)

And here is some news from Saturday’s New York Times –

After bitter negotiations, the U.S. signed a trade deal with our neighbors in Canada and Mexico.

Our international leadership presence at the G-20 Summit has been overshadowed by the legal troubles of people who had high access to the foundations of our national security while admitting they were compromised by malicious foreign operatives.

The private information of 500 million Marriott guests has been hacked.

A strong earthquake in Anchorage has crippled the whole state.

Another high-profile public figure has been exposed to be something far less than a positive role model for our youth.

And apparently, the insect apocalypse is here.

Yeah – in conversation, what Jesus says here, side-by-side with the news of our day, is most certainly alarming. And now I also think we can maybe imagine more closely, what Jesus’ first followers felt when he said this.

Remember, at this point in the story, we are well beyond that manger scene. Jesus has bluntly foreshadowed his betrayal, his torture and his execution. His disciples are feeling like the world is falling down around their ears. Everything they assumed was permanent is crumbling. The Messiah they expected would bring the powerful to their knees and lift the lowly up has resigned himself to earthly death. It seems to them – like it does to us sometimes – that bitterness and confusion and distrust among neighbors and nations wins … that the very earth is trying to swallow up our cities and worship spaces … that the powerful get stronger and richer on the backs of those who have little. That the end of times is near. It’s in the signs, Jesus says.

But also, Jesus does allude to the other thing we wait for, the thing Advent is primarily about. Yes, we wait for the way Jesus came to us in the past in the Bethlehem manger scene.

And we also wait for the way Jesus will come to us in the future – when all the righteousness and all the brokenness of our world will see the Son of Humanity “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” … the end of this time, when the Reign of God will be fully revealed and all of God’s creation will be made perfect and whole again.

And until that time, which we cannot predict, there will be signs and a lot of confusion – a lot of alarm.

But our Bible lesson doesn’t end there – it doesn’t stop in that alarming tension between what Jesus says and what we see when we look at the present times.

Listen again to what he says next: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (v 28) and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (v 33) and “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation (or indulgence) and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (v 34a).

In other words – raise your head high and be fed at this table. God’s Word is forever. Discord and division dies with those who seek it. We heard that Word and promise from the Psalmist: “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.” Ps 25:10) … we can confidently surrender our worries and distractions to God, because God’s got our backs.

Remember the other truth that Jesus has bluntly foreshadowed for his followers – that on the third day he is raised from the dead, claiming victory over our death and winning all creation from the formerly deathly grip of sin and a fallen, sometimes alarming world.

I’ll end with a quote from the old Protestant theologian who reminds us to keep this conversation between the Bible and our times active, even when it is alarming and confusing. His name was Karl Barth and when I was refreshing my memory about his contribution to Lutheran theology, I came upon what he said to a friend the night before he died in December, 1968.  He said, "For things are ruled, not just in Moscow or in Washington or in Peking, but things are ruled – even here on earth—entirely from above, from heaven above.”


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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