It’s the End of the World As We Know It!

Today I want to talk about the last things… The fancy church word pastors and scholars use is called “eschatology.”  It literally means the study of the last things.

A saying that is sometimes attributed to Martin Luther helps me to frame my comments – “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!”

The Nicene Creed declares that Jesus Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”  From the beginning of our history, Christians have been living with the realization that Jesus will come again to bring a new heaven and a new earth.  Lutherans start with the assumption that this is good news.  All that is wrong with this world will be restored by God’s grace.

In the last several centuries there has been a renewed interest in eschatology by certain parts of the Christian church.  On its own, that’s not a bad thing.  To grossly oversimplify things, how we think about the end makes a difference in how we live in the present.  Lutherans haven’t really been having lots of conversations about these sorts of things.

But to have a brief conversation I think we need to start with the Bible.  Lutherans read the Bible with Jesus Christ as the center.  He is God’s Word made flesh.  While some Christians look at Scripture start with the assumption that God’s Word is a road map that predicts history or gives us propositions to believe or accept, Lutherans talk about how Scriptures center on Christ, the Living Word, who speaks to us through these ancient words.

Because Jesus is at the center of our reading of Scripture and because we stress God’s grace, we start with the understanding that all of life is in God’s hands.  God keeps and protects us as a shepherd keeps sheep.  This means that we don’t have to worry about the end of the world because it’s all in God’s hand.  Our job is not to spend inordinate amounts of time preparing for the end of the world by doing things like predicting the end of the world.  Our job is to be signs of the new creation that is springing up around us.  It is to do things like work for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2) and to trust that God’s kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven in/around/through us.  The daily tasks we do are signs of God’s kingdom breaking in that will culminate with the second coming of Jesus.

In other words, we Lutherans are much more interested in the signs of new creation that are springing up on earth than we are about when the end of the world will be. Our job is to live in hope and to trust that God’s desire for the world is good and gracious.

The Great Controversy – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about a book that had been in several mailboxes by the title The Great Controversy.  I’ve not read the book yet and probably won’t get to it any time soon.  But here are some of my thoughts:  

The author, Ellen G. White, is a really important figure in the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) tradition.  In the 1980’s there was a statement on how mainstream SDA’s think of her writings.  They believe that she had the gift of prophecy and that her writings are “the product of that inspiration, are applicable and authoritative, especially to Seventh-day Adventists.”  (For more on what they said, go to this website.)   Interestingly even though a woman’s writings are a really important part of their tradition, they remain divided on the ordination of women as pastors.

While Lutherans and Seventh-day Adventists share a common belief in the Triune God, we also have some significant differences.  For instance, SDA’s stress practices like tithing and Old Testament dietary laws as binding on Christians.  Lutherans stress the freedom a Christian has because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Another important distinction is that Lutherans primarily gather on Sunday because this is the day Jesus rose from the dead (see Acts 20:7), while SDA’s believe that Christians are obligated to worship on Saturday.

When I talk with Christians from other traditions, you can often hear different things emphasized.  For instance, Lutherans place a strong emphasis on God’s grace as a gift given to us.  While that’s a theme that runs throughout the whole Bible, a lot of Lutherans I know will find great comfort in Paul’s writings in the New Testament.

SDA’s stress two books in the Bible that are about the end of the world – the Old Testament Book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Revelation.  You can see glimpses of this on the back cover of The Great Controversy:  

Solemn and important… are the events taking place in our times.  But what do all these really mean?  Could these be warning signs, arousing us to some imminent danger?…  The Great Controversy reveals that the world is a theater of conflict.  The actors – you and me – are preparing to act our part in the last great drama.  And our choices and actions have a part to play in the outcome of this agelong struggle.”  

Notice the language of conflict that I mentioned yesterday.  Also notice the emphasis on the end of the world (i.e. the last great drama.)  Tomorrow I’m going to briefly offer a Lutheran response to this….

The Great Controversy in my mailbox

Several folks have asked me about a book they’ve received in their mailbox.  Here’s an image of the book:

The Great Controversy

Maybe you’ve seen it in your own mailbox.  I had several people asking me about it.  So here’s what I know…

This book was written by Ellen White, an important person in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA).

The SDA’s were formed in the mid-1800’s by a group of people that were looking for the second advent, or second coming, of Jesus.  They also are a group of Christians who believe that Christians are still bound to keep the seventh day of the week (i.e. Saturday) as the Sabbath.  So if you put those two things together, that they keep the seventh day as Sabbath and that they expect the advent of Jesus, then you get their name, Seventh-day Adventists.

Of course there is much more that could be said about the SDA’s, but I’ll get back to the book many of you were asking me about this past Sunday.

Mrs. White wrote this about The Great Controversy:
“The Great Controversy should be very widely circulated. It contains the story of the past, the present, and the future. In its outline of the closing scenes of this earth’s history, it bears a powerful testimony in behalf of the truth. I am more anxious to see a wide circulation for this book than for any others I have written; for in The Great Controversy, the last message of warning to the world is given more distinctly than in any of my other books.”

One of the major themes of Mrs. White’s writing was the idea of a cosmic struggle between Jesus and Satan that gets played out on earth.  It looks like this book attempts to trace her understanding of Christian history (Luther has two chapters in it) and Scripture that ends with the second coming of Christ.

When I did a little bit of digging on the Internet, I found that this has been a project of Remnant Publications, an independent publishing house out of Michigan.  They’ve been asking for contributions from people to help send out copies of this book across the US.  Last year 350,000 households in Charlotte, NC received this book and 750,000 households received this book in San Francisco, CA.  Apparently they’re starting to send books to people in San Antonio.

Tomorrow I’ll have a little more about this for you…

-Pastor Russell

Life Together

by Vicar Emily Ebert

Life Together. We all have our own ideas of what the phrase, ‘Life Together’ implies. We all have our own communities of which we are a part, and our own ways of existing within them. We throw around words of ‘love’ and ‘community’ as followers of Christ, but how do those words get played out in our lives? Sometimes there are unconscious boundaries that prevent us from revealing our whole selves to our neighbors. If we are unable to reveal our whole selves, then we might begin to wonder about the depth of our relationships. If we are unable to face the realities – the joys and the struggles – in our own lives, in our community at Zion, in our various circles of friends, and even within what we see as our various circles of enemies, then what kind of relationships do we have? We need relationships that create systems of support and love, but we also need relationships that challenge each of us and help us grow as a community. In Psalm 133:1, it says “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell in unity!” That does not mean we will agree on everything, but it does mean we will listen to each other, bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:25).

This week we begin our book study on Bonhoeffer’s book titled Life Together. Bonhoeffer was a man who brought faith, doctrine, intellect, theology, action, and discipleship together. The book is based off of the experience of life in a community for an underground seminary during the years of the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer not only challenged the German sense of community, but the sense of community within the German clergy, challenging action and inaction within the communities of the Holocaust. Bonhoeffer gives advice and guidance that can challenge us to think about how we live as followers of Christ, within our congregation and within the world. The purpose of the study is to build curiosity about what the words of Scripture and Bonhoeffer’s words mean for us now. Come, ready to dive in. Come, ready to challenge each other. Come, ready to question the world we live in.

Zion still has books available for $10 (also available on Kindle). Contact Karen Stein (kstein@zionsa.org) or Emily Ebert (eebert@zionsa.org) if you are in need of a book. You may also call the church office at 210-688-3090.

Each week, we will discuss one chapter of Bonhoeffer’s book. If you miss a week, that is okay. Let me (Emily) know, and I can send you the study questions for the week you missed.

1. Wednesdays – starting June 3, 6:30-7:30am at The Egg & I on Bandera (a great way to start off the morning, especially if you cannot make an evening Bible study time)
2. Wednesdays – starting June 3, 7-8:30pm in room 101
3. Sunday – starting June 7, come to Adult Sunday school at 9:30am
4. June 15-19 – 7-8:30pm, meet in the Narthex to study one chapter each night during evening VBS. Register with Karen Stein for this session by June 7th.

VBS 2015

Everest Vbs 2015 Logo

VBS is coming to Zion!  Our education director, Karen Stein is hard at work preparing for another year of great learning and fun June 15-19.  We thought we’d share a few pieces of information about this year’s VBS:

-Please register by going to this website by June 7.  While the morning session is already full, there are spots available for our evening session.  Important:  we cannot accept walk-up registrations.  Every child must be registered by June 7 so we can have adequate materials and adult supervision.  In addition, we do not have a waiting list for the morning session.

-This year’s theme is Everest and focuses on Mount Everest in Nepal.  There have been a series of powerful earthquakes that have rocked the people of Nepal.  Our church is a part of an international effort to provide aid and comfort to the people of Nepal as they help to rebuild their country.  As a part of our VBS, we will be collecting monetary items as well as other supplies to help the Nepalese.

-We are still in need of volunteers, especially for the morning session!  As of the writing of this blog post, we still need 10 crew leaders to help guide children to the various activities throughout the morning.  If you can help, please contact Karen Stein.

It’s going to be a great VBS!  Join us as we learn about God’s might power!

Building Team Update

My father is a draftsman and works out of the house. As a child I remember him having clients to the house to discuss their house plans. There are a great number of details that go into building a house. My dad and his clients would look at a set of blueprints and spend hours talking about where to put everything in their house from windows to power outlets. Sometimes they would need to have discussions about their wishes versus their budgets. Those conversations were never easy.

I think about those memories of my childhood as our building team has been diligently working on the first steps of our master plan for facilities. We are blessed with a diverse group of people on the Building Team. They’ve been working hard with Alamo Architects and a contractor named G.W. Mitchell to do some planning that is necessary before we break ground.

This past Sunday in worship Don Josephson, Building Team Chair, shared information about what they’ve been doing over the last several months. Here are the highlights of Don’s temple talk:

-This process is a marathon, not a sprint. Before the first shovel hits the ground for construction, it takes about a year’s worth of planning. The Building Team is still on schedule with that planning and hopes to break ground later this year.

-This past Thursday the Building Team met with Alamo Architects and G.W. Mitchell to receive a detailed cost estimate. Earlier in the year, G.W. Mitchell had a large group of sub-contractors come out to the church to estimate every expense for this first step. Like any construction project, there were surprises that we did not expect. Unfortunately, the cost estimate for this first step was substantially more than our estimated budget of $5 million.

-Because the Building Team wants to be responsible stewards of the resources God has given to us, it will be necessary to rethink the first steps of construction. The pastors, program staff, Building Team, and Congregation Council will be gathering on February 26 to discuss how to proceed. After this meeting, we will have a congregational forum. The date for the congregational forum has not been set yet but we will inform the congregation as soon as possible.

– Even though we won’t be able to do everything we had hoped right now, we will continue to move forward with this master plan. We will not be stopping after this first step of construction. Our goal is to complete this master plan. It will take many years to complete, but we still believe that God is calling us to make this happen.

-As always, the Building Team invites your prayers and continued support.

The Extravaganza!

Today’s post is written by Travis Baker, our Youth Minister.

Each year, over the last weekend of January, Youth Ministers and volunteers across the ELCA come together in one place to think, discuss and reflect on our various congregational contexts and what it looks like to work with children, youth and families. This year, over 1000 people gathered in Detroit to take part in worship, mass gatherings, workshops, and roundtable discussions, all centered on the theme of Story. The idea of Story has become sort of a buzzword in youth ministry the past few couple of years. Many of us, as we’ve gathered and talked and dreamed about the direction youth ministry seems to be taking, have been caught up in the idea of story. What stories are our congregations telling? What stories are our youth telling? Is there a disconnect between those two or are they on the same page? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the story we are being called to in the days and months ahead?

As I spend my time reflecting on the ideas presented and the conversations engaged in over the weekend in Detroit, I can’t help but continue to reflect on the work of our youth ministry in the language of story. We all share our stories with others. Our worship on Sunday morning is a great gathering in the midst of an incredible and long-told story that has us as players on a grand stage. When we gather over meals or water coolers or wander through the hallways of our schools, we are constantly speaking in terms of story. This is a major facet in how our community is forged.

Yet we often continue to march on without a second thought as to what story we are actually telling. Each step we take, each person we come into contact with, each prayer we offer up, becomes a part of the story that we tell with our life. And that story is intricately linked with the stories that others tell around us, to the point where we often find that our story shares many similarities with others. And as I reflect on this, I think of our Confirmation class, which has been telling and retelling the stories of our faith all year long, through many different mediums. Week after week they are challenged to share of their own stories and the intersection their story has with the grand story God is telling alongside of us. Then they relate these stories through puppet shows, through art they create, through skits and songs and poems that they then present to the rest of their fellow Confirmands. And as we work through the year, we as adults working and learning beside our youth find that the stories of our faith have so much more depth to them than previous thought, all because we have found where our stories exist inside the stories of God’s people as related in the scriptures.

So as we journey through our days, let us keep our eyes open to the stories that are being told around us. Let us look at others and catch a glimpse of their stories so we can see the world through their eyes. Let us find new ways to share of our own stories and, above all, let us remember that we are part of a story that is bigger than any of us but is not possible to be told without us.