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If Only I Had Known…sermon video and manuscript

If Only I Had Known

This sermon was preached at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, in Richmond, VA on November 17, 2013, by Dr. Bill Nieporte.

Below the scripture text, you’ll find an embedded sermon video.   If you prefer to read the sermon, a rough manuscript follows the text.

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Luke 21:5-19

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.

 

 

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I told you recently about my friend Argie, a member of the first church I served after seminary.  I told you that I visited Argie after he’d received a diagnosis of a terminal cancer.

He was sitting on a lawn chair in his garden, hands dirty from digging down in the dirt to removed some weeds.

We engaged in small talk for several moments, then I broached the subject of his cancer.  “Argie, what are you feeling about what the doctor said?”

“You know, Pastor,” he said, as he leaned back into his chair, “If I knew when and where I was going to die, I’d make it a point to not be there!”

We laughed for several moments and I have received tremendous joy sharing that story on several occasions.   The reason for the laughter is that we all understand the formula.  We’ve all used those words at one time or another:  “If only I had known!”

You fill in the blanks, “If only I had known __________ , I would not have ______________ !”

Or,   “If only I had known _______________ ,  I would have _____________ !”

“If only I had known about that a massive hurricane, I would not have built my retirement home along the coast!”

“If only I had known about Bill Gates success with Microsoft in the 1980’s, I would have been a big time investor.”

Have you ever imagined what you might do differently if you could get a hold of a next week’s newspaper, today?

I would certainly buy the winning tickets to both the Powerball and Mega-Millions lottery.  If you know the winning number, it’s not gambling – it’s making a wise investment.

What changes would you make to your life if you could get hold of next week’s newspaper today?

We’d probably check the obituary, to make sure our name was not listed.  And if it were, we’d want to find out when and where we died in order to not be there.

If only we knew what tomorrow would bring, but none of us have that kind of knowledge.

There are people out there whose career is that of a futurologist.  They study trends in history and culture.  They look at the human condition and how people tend to react in trying and troublesome times, or in times of plenty and abundance.  Then they make an educated guess about what might happen – and many of those futurologist have some amazing accuracy.  Still, they are only making an educated guess.

Often their predictions are wrong.

Take, for example, the 1943 prediction made by Thomas J Watson, at that time Chairman of the Board for IBM.   He said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

If only he’d known…

Then there is the 1876 internal memo at Western Union which read:  “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

If only he’d known…

Or how about when Gary Cooper who said (after deciding NOT to accept the leading role in Gone With The Wind):  “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face not Gary Cooper.”

If only he’d known…

My favorite example are the comments by an executive at Decca Music who said, after rejecting the audition of a music group in 1962, saying:  “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”  Any guess who that group might be?

“The Beatles.”

If only he’d known…

In the text read moments ago, the disciples are site-seeing in Jerusalem.  Specifically, they were looking at the temple.  On a clear day, the temple could be seem from miles away.

“Look at how beautiful the temple is,” they said.  “What a magnificent building!”

Jesus responded by saying that the whole thing was coming down

So much for their pleasant day of sightseeing.  This kind of comment bordered on blasphemy, or at least heresy.  The idea that God’s house might one day be destroyed.  The notion that the temple might one day lay in ruins.  It was completely, totally, and in every way inconceivable.

Yet Jesus just said it was going to happen.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.  The temple was coming down.  Everything that the people believed was sacred would end up in rubble and ruins. It’s dust would be scattered as far as the winds could blow.

The prediction was frighteningly disturbing.  So the disciple’s ask the natural question:  “Teacher, when will this destruction take place, and what will be the sign that this is about to happen?”

Here is what I think they might be saying:  “If only we knew when this was going to happen, we might be able to do something about it!”

Jesus is pointing to a definitive end to history.  There will be a time of reckoning. We hear that and (just like the disciples) we want to know when and where and how.   “When will this happen and is there a way I can know it is upon us?”

Jesus is speaking about eschatology or the doctrine of end times – but the passage also offer some wisdom for us to consider as we think about the end of our own days,  It speaks wisdom to us when we feel like our sense of hope seems to be in peril.

You feel that way at times, don’t you?

There is a delightful scene in one of Lily Tomlin’s movies in which she becomes The Incredible Shrinking Woman.  At one point during the movie Ms. Tomlin (who plays the role of the shrinking woman) finds herself so short and thin that she is in danger of being washed down a kitchen drain.  You see her swirling around in the kitchen sink, just seconds away from certain death, desperately trying to find something to hold on to.  Finally she grabs hold of a string of pasta and clings to with all her might.

We understand that feeling.  And if we could know in advance that we might find ourselves in any similar sort of circumstance, we’d want to know the when and the where of it – so we could avoid that situation at all costs.

What Jesus points to in this passage is that even when our living includes trials and tribulations, there is still a purpose to our lives.

Think about what he says…

There will be wars.

There will be earthquakes, famines and pestilences.

There will fearful events and great signs from heaven.

You will face opposition and persecution.

You will betrayed by your family members and dearest friends.

You will be hated by people at every turn.

 Now, this does not sound particularly comforting or reassuring.  This is not name it and claim it theology.  This is not the health and wealth gospel of the television preachers.

You know what this is.  It’s real life.

Jesus was talking about a day of judgment and reckoning – YES.

Jesus was talking about a culmination to history – YES.

Jesus was talking about the end of days – YES.

But Jesus was also talking about how we live with a purpose as all those event seems to be unfolding around us.

I do not know if the trials and troubles of this present day point to a moment on the near horizon when the end will come.  If only we could know that.  Imagine the changes we would all make.  But we do not have that kind of global foreknowledge about the when and the where of what will be.

What we do know is that each day that passes brings us closer to the end of our days and the culmination of our history.  So, it would be wise for us to explore how we might live our lives with meaning and purpose as such a day approaches.

Jesus says, “Make up your mind not to worry beforehand!”

Next, Jesus says: “I will give you words and wisdom.”

Finally, Jesus admonishes:  “Stand firm, and you will win life!”

At this point in my sermon preparation, I was tempted to find a few sermon illustrations for each of these points, and then add some sort of conclusion (maybe a poem).  You know, put a pretty bow on it and call it a morality lesson about living in tough times.

But three points and a poem, pretty bows, and a morality lesson are not very helpful when you feel like you are living through hell.

That’s the kind of thing Jesus is talking about here.  Living through hell on earth.  How do we live through circumstances like that?

The only answer is FAITH – belief, dependence, reliance, trust.

I have said to you before…and I think it bears repeating today:  “The Christian life is not something we live FOR God, it is something we live FROM God, from the abundance of his riches given us in Jesus Christ.”

When…

…we find ourselves facing what seems to be the end of days…

…we feel ourselves going under for the third time…

…it seems like we are swirling around, headed for destruction…

In those moment, our lives still have purpose and meaning.   But we will not find that in ourselves.  We will only find that in Jesus Christ.

Jesus was there for us at the cross.  He took all our human brokenness, frailties, and sin into himself.  He dealt with it there on the cross through his gift of grace by sacrificial love.

Jesus is with us in all the mess now.  He is giving up himself, his words, his strength, his confidence, his faith.

 

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