Nov 20, 2016 Paradise – It is about religion!
Associated Press –Nov 1st. 2010 BAGHDAD – Iraq’s dwindling Christian community was grieving and afraid on Monday after militants seized a Baghdad church during evening Mass, held the congregation hostage and triggered a raid by Iraqi security forces. The bloodbath left at least 52 people killed and 67 wounded — nearly everyone inside.
Outside Our Lady of Deliverance church, a Syrian Catholic church, a man leaned against the car carrying his cousin’s coffin, waiting for the police to let him bury him on church grounds. “It was a massacre in there.” he said Monday morning. “We Christians don’t have enough protection …”
A cryptically worded statement posted late Sunday on a militant website, allegedly by the Islamic State of Iraq, appeared to claim responsibility for the attack. The group, which is linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, said it would “exterminate Iraqi Christians” if (2 specific women in Egypt the group claims) as Muslim were not freed. (The women deny that they converted to Islam.)
In their message Sunday, the militants called on the Vatican, which held a meeting last month to discuss the fate of Christians in the Middle East, to release the women. “We direct our speech to the Vatican and say that as you met with Christians of the Mideast a few days ago to support them and back them, now you have to pressure them to release our sisters, otherwise death will reach you all,” it said.
Why do I read this 6 yr old news article on the last day of this church year? Because what we do here, why we gather each week of each year here, is important. It is about religion – what you believe about God to be true, will be reflected by how you act each day and in each circumstance.
Christians are told in this report the al-queda promise, that death will visit them, unless al-queda’s demands are met. Do the extremists not realize that we don’t fear death? Do you realize that you don’t fear death? The threat of death is nothing as compared to the threat of apostasy, which is the turning away from God and His promises and thereby a means to deny our religion. God said in the Old Testament lesson today, And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. Those who do not serve God, who are apostate, do not have God’s promise for themselves. His promise of life is what we trust in. No human promise or threat of death can turn us from believing in God’s promise of life and redemption in Jesus Christ.
Like I said last week, that Sunday will be a memorable one. But again what makes it memorable are Jesus’ words, heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away. That’s still true this week. His words of hope and promise, like He made today to the thief on the cross; those words of Jesus remain. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It is openly and publicly holding to the hope that we find in those words of Jesus, which has brought persecution and hardship to the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Syrian catholic Christians in Iraq and Syria and to most all Christians everywhere in the Middle East. Such things should give us pause in our struggle with choices and the circumstances we each find ourselves in daily. Their realities give us some perspective on our troubles when we have these brothers and sisters literally under fire for the faith we share with them in the words of Jesus.
Do they fear death? Certainly they fear the dying process, as we all do since we know our own mortality. In the narrow sense it’s healthy to fear death. No one welcomes the pain or suffering that comes with it, especially when it takes the form of terrorism. By its very name terrorism is to be feared.
But in the wide sense, No. We Christians do not fear death for deaths sake. And that’s where the terrorists get it wrong. In their fear of the annihilation of their religion, they believe that we also fear annihilation. But we have the words of Jesus from last week and this week that remove that fear from us. In His words to the thief on the cross this week, Jesus speaks the words that promise us hope. Those words of Jesus assure the thief, and us, that we will be with Jesus in paradise.
Jesus is the heart of paradise for us because He is the resurrection and the life. And the promise of God is that all who believe in Jesus will never perish but have eternal life. Paradise is about religion
We do not perish as those who have chosen apostasy – the turning away from the words of Jesus. ‘The posture of the Christian, is hope not realization’ (X2) so said a preacher friend of mine. We don’t expect to see the realization of paradise in our earthly life. Our ‘posture of hope’ is in the words of Jesus alone. In them we have life, not death. The words of Christ are words of life, of the truth that paradise, is being in Jesus’ presence in heaven.
I can say that because we trust in the God
who made the promise in the epistle lesson from Colossians For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Can we say that promise of peace through the blood of Jesus applies to those persecuted in Syria, Egypt and Iraq? Yes, but that doesn’t mean persecution is easy for them to bear, here’s the rest of the article: On Monday, Iraqi authorities took extra measures to protect Christian neighborhoods and churches in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad. “This is more than a tragedy,” said Iraq’s Human Rights minister, Wijdan Mikheil, who is a Christian. Choking back tears as she spoke with reporters outside Our Lady of Deliverance church, she said: “What is happening to Iraqis in general and Christians in particular is an attempt to push them out of the country…”
Karim Khalil, a 49-year-old Iraqi Christian, said he moved to Syria with his family last year because he felt his religion made him a target in Baghdad.
“Iraqi militias threatened me, saying I was on the side of the Americans because I am Christian,” Karim told the AP. “They said I would be killed if I stayed in Iraq.” Now he lives in Damascus with his wife and five children. “I have left behind my house and everything to escape with my family,” he said.
Many other Iraqi Christians living in Syria refused to speak to the Press. They said they fear militias may exact revenge on their families in Iraq.
Their persecution is a part of our world too. It impacts us because we are fellow believers with them by the words of Jesus. We can learn from them to persevere. We gain a sense of hope and even gratitude by praying for God’s care for His loved ones in the Middle East. We can support them by remaining faithful to the words of Christ that give us all a hope and a future.
That future is secure and safe with Jesus because He went to the cross willingly and died the death of a thief. And that’s because Jesus too is a thief. He came to rob Satan of his power over people to bind them under sin and to beat upon them with the law. Jesus is a thief after all. He came to steal away the hearts that Satan had bound under the penalty of sin… which is death. That’s why Jesus had to die between two thieves; He is the thief that steals away every heart who trusts in His word, as we do.
That word is what we gather together each Sunday and Wednesday to hear and to be refreshed in. We believe that His word alone will save us. We believe that in Him alone is hope and life. And because of Him and His words, our religion directs how we act according to His promise and not according to any pressures we face.
And though this is the last day of the church year and next week we being anew with advent and looking forward to Jesus’ second coming, we remember this day that no matter what comes our way, no matter what trials or struggles or persecutions are faced by Jesus’ followers – through it all will remain the words of Jesus, which promise, as He said to His fellow thief, that we will be with Him in paradise. In Jesus name, amen.
Sermon #854 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Malachi 3:13-18 13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ 14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”
16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
Second Reading Colossians 1:13-20 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Holy Gospel Luke 23:27-43 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then
“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”