The Lord's Coming   2 Peter 3:8-15a   December 7, 2008

   When the end of the world arrives, how will the media report it?
 
When it looks like the world around us is going to go apocalyptic, it's terribly tempting to run off and search for a "Secure and Undisclosed Location." But Peter has a better plan.
Some years ago, we were scrambling to stay ahead of Al Qaeda, wondering where the vice president was. The airwaves were full of jokes. Here are two Jay Leno made on the Tonight Show:

Leno: "Everybody is talking about finding bin Laden. How about finding
DickCheney? Where did he go? What, have we got caves over here now, too? Where did he go? I think his Secret Service code name is 'Waldo.'"

And Leno again: "The White House is sending
Vice President DickCheney to the Middle East this month. You get the feeling that President Bush's opinion of Cheney has changed since the Enron thing broke? You know, a few weeks ago, all they would say about Cheney is that he was in a safe, undisclosed location. He's hidden away. As soon as Enron popped up, they sent him to the most dangerous place in the world."

Throughout the Cold War our government used Secure and Undisclosed Locations. Their existence wasn't secret. Most citizens knew what they were; obviously, few knew where they were.

Then, surprisingly, the Soviets went out of business: the Cold War ended and we heard little more about them. Now, there are new international threats from Terrorist organizations. Once more we've opened these safe houses. These are the places where we put our powerful people, like the vice president, when they are particularly endangered, such as after the Pentagon attack. We send Dick Cheney to a "secure and undisclosed location."

When David was on the run from murderous King Saul he hid in the rocky caves in the hill country of En Gedi. Modern safe houses are pretty much like the ancient ones, except now they're equipped with cell phones, computers, beds, hot water, fishing rods and Secret Service agents.

Information on their locations is a matter of national security. After 9/11, Vice-President Cheney was placed in one, or two. Where? We don't know. And we don't want to know.
At times hunkering down is necessary, as when your king with his hostile army, or an enemy terrorist organization, is hunting you.

The early church often had a hunker-in-the-bunker mentality, too. They had reason to be afraid, to stay put, stay quiet, stay hidden. Political unrest. Rumors were flying. And those apocalyptic images in Peter's letter were - are! - frightening.

Judgment! Fiery destruction! Heavens disappearing with a roar! The earth laid bare! The end of time and life as they knew it! It sounds eerily like the results of an all-out nuclear exchange. The term for such an event during the Cold War was Mutually Assured Destruction, or M.A.D. Good name for it. Scary stuff.

Understandably, the ancient church wanted to hide, to lie low for a while. Peter disagrees. He insists that when the going gets rough in uncertain times - like then, like now - rather than hiding in a cave somewhere, we must live holy, godly, spotless and blameless lives, and be at peace with God.

Good advice ... but how?

For starters, don't just sit there doing nothing. Don't just kick back, waiting for the end of the world as we know it. Perhaps the fiery obliteration predicted by Peter will come next week, next year or not for 500 years or more. Who knows? Instead, why not live every day as if it is our last day on earth, because we'll never know when it is coming. God's measurement of time is infinitely different from ours.
 
8But do not ignore this one fact,) beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

What appears to some as "slowness" on the part of the Lord is in fact patience, the divine forbearance that allows as many as possible "to come to repentance" prior to the final judgment (v. 9).
 
Nonetheless, it’s clear that the meaning of the second coming, for Peter and the early church, as well as the church ever since, is that at the end of human history, Christ is coming to finish what he started at Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and that it will be at a time of God’s choosing. Therefore, the seeming delay of Jesus’ return, says Peter, is actually no delay at all but God’s purposeful plan.
 
Central to the idea of the day of the Lord in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are both judgment and salvation. When the writers of the New Testament employ the term, it is invariably related to the second coming of Christ. Peter says the Christ will come like a thief in the night. In other words, quietly, and when we least expect it.

Don't be lulled, pacified, placated or mollified into passive state of mind. Peter proclaims: Don't hide yourself away. Pay attention, (not to whether or when the thief is coming,) but to our responsibilities as Christians in the meantime.

The purpose of the imagery of thievery appears to be / to emphasize the watchfulness necessary for those who would not be caught out in improper living, / and to discourage the "stupid and senseless controversies" (2 Timothy 2:23) / such as speculating about the exact moment of the Lord's arrival in judgment.

 
Peter says it's all right to wait for the new world, for kingdom come. Waiting is okay; passivity is not okay. So in the meantime, let's do something valuable and significant in our spiritual lives.

So, let's ask some questions: What is it to be at peace with God? What does it mean to be spotless or without blemish? How can we be holy? What is it to be godly?

Peace with God (v. 14) happens often as the dying come near to death's door they find themselves having settled and set straight all the paths and peoples in their lives. They tie up the loose strands, they say "I love you" to special people, they ask forgiveness, and give forgiveness, then they discover, unexpectedly, that they are at peace with their Maker.
 
To be at peace with God is to do this daily. To forgive, to be forgiven, to love and to say "I love you." Taking the time to fix the broken parts in our lives, to heal the wounds, and if not possible to heal, then to apologize and love. To be at peace with God may be to be ready at any moment to go home to God. Staff in hand, cloak on, sandals tied, ready at the door!

 
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 1 Corinthians 6:19
 
 1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
 2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:1-2 (KJV)
 
Jesus warns us, that before we lay our gift on the altar, we should be reconciled to our sister or brother (Matthew 5:23-25). We ourselves are the treasure, the gift, laid on God's altar. &&& To be ready for that daily, one must seek reconciliation. If it is peace we want, we must reconcile with those we've hurt or been hurt by.

 
Spotless. Peter is not talking about moral or sinless perfection. The word is a reference to a stain on our clothes. When we step into the world or into God's presence, our clothes should be clean. We should be careful not to suffer the embarrassment of preaching about the stain on someone else's clothes when our own garments are soiled with the stain of bad conduct, immoral behavior, shady deals, questionable character.

 
In an age of uncertainty and fear, people are looking for those who are able to live without staining themselves, without making a mess of their lives through selfish, arrogant, or careless living.

God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain. (C.S. Lewis in Letters of C.S. Lewis, cited in Christianity Today, March 1, 1999, 64.)
 
To live holy and Godly lives is to remember every day that God is present, alive and observant, and to respond accordingly. We cannot be Christ to the world if we insist on living anonymously in a spiritual cocoon, a secure and undisclosed location. The world - not to speak of God -wants to know where we are.
 
11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?
 
The fire dissolving all things is a symbolic way of saying that human freedom and human responsibility matter, that what we do matters and matters in the eternal sense. We will have to answer for the kind of people we are.

Unlike human judges, however, God also provides mercy and grace. No matter what we deserve, God sent his Son the first time to tell us about forgiveness so that if we accept it and start living lives of godliness, we have nothing to fear when he comes the second time, no matter what actual form that takes. That, of course, is part of the good news of the gospel.

In truth, it’s impossible to know what to do with descriptions of a fiery end to Earth; yet it doesn’t take much imagining to contemplate our own end as individuals.

Fortunately, we have a gospel that tells us that beyond our end, beyond whatever comes, there will be “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (v. 13).

There is a final accounting coming for all of us, but faithful Christians can face that time with boldness.

Let us close with another on of Paul's profound prayers: Philippians 1 (NIV) Thanksgiving and Prayer
 
 3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
 
 9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Amen.

 
 Rev. Rosemary Stelz

 
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