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No Cliffhanger Here - By Pastor Thomas Engel


Let’s start with a little television drama series show trivia of the '70s and '80s.

Who shot J.R.?

To refresh my memory, I went to Wikipedia to find the answer:

‘"Who shot J.R.?" is an advertising catchphrase that American network CBS created in 1980 to promote the television series Dallas. It referred to the mystery surrounding a murder attempt against villain J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) in the show's third-season finale "A House Divided." The mystery and its catchphrase became a global phenomenon, with international odds-makers setting odds for the culprit. The mystery was not resolved until the fourth episode of the fourth season titled "Who Done It," which aired eight months later, with an estimated 83 million viewers tuning in. The catchphrase has a strong legacy in pop culture and the format helped popularize the cliffhanger ending for television series.”

Shh! if you do remember, keep the answer to yourself, and if you don’t remember, I will give you some hints: Was it J.R.’s wife, Sue Ellen? Or Bobby Ewing, J.R.’s younger brother? Or maybe Kristen Shepard, his sister-in-law?

Does any of that help you to remember “Who shot J.R.?”

Well, I’m not going to give you the answer. Here and now, I’m going to make my own cliffhanger. You will have to wait until you get home to google the answer.

I’ve always liked Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story. Again, I went to Wikipedia to find more of the history of the show:

The Rest of the Story was a Monday-through-Friday radio program originally hosted by Paul Harvey. Beginning as a part of his newscasts during the Second World War and then premiering as its own series on the ABC Radio Networks on May 10, 1976, The Rest of the Story consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with some key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end. The broadcasts always concluded with a variation on the tag line, "And now you know...the rest of the story."’

Creating drama to catch our interest is the key to keep us staying tuned in.

The news does it with a tease before the commercial break that gives a hint of something scandalous coming up in the next segment, so we don’t pick-up the remote and start channel surfing.

Shows like Dancing with the Stars build drama by showing a video of tough rehearsals with growing frustrations as the partners try to overcome faults and flaws. Will the contestant get it “right” in time for the moment of performance?

I ended last week’s sermon by saying to watch the Hallmark channel with its Christmas romance movies, so you can have a distraction from these troubling times. The movies try to build drama by a scenario where a man and woman meet who have some kind of tension between them, but they are also attracted to each other.

I would like for one story to end with the two people admitting that they are really okay with staying friends because in real life not all romances work out. I do guess that would miss the whole point of romantic movies that are to build to a passionate happy ending.

Talking about real life-is life so naturally full of drama that it creates cliffhangers? Are we always in some way on the edge? I mean-is real life really as dramatic as we see in a television drama series or in a reality show?

Or do we watch drama playing out on the screen because it’s fun? Seriously, we know that it’s all fake-it’s contrived by producers to make you keep watching, but it works, we do keep watching.

Is it human nature to be obsessed with drama?

In my life, I’m really okay with routine and the same old stuff. Doing the same old things can get dull, but give me boring over hyped-up drama any day of the week.

That’s what I say, but when drama hits, get me in the middle of that action or at least a front-row seat.

When it comes to knowing the rest of the story, studies have found that most people don’t want to know their futures. If their days ahead have some pain, they don’t want to know the suffering that they are going to have to endure.

If something good is on the horizon, they still don’t want to know because they don’t want to miss out on the enjoyment of a surprise.

With either good or bad ahead, it seems that most people want to take one day at a time. That wisdom of “taking one day at a time” works well because all we get is one day at a time.

But, with the truth, that time keeps passing by one day at a time and the days seem to be going by so quickly it can make us anxious for the future.

Even with all my effort to control my day, I’m only giving myself a false idea that time is in my hands.

We can track time by looking at our watches and calendars, but we can’t control time.

CC and I were out for our daily walk. A man came rushing out of his house, and he said loudly to himself as he looked at his watch, “Boy, am I late!”

At that moment, time meant something to that man, for he was running behind schedule. But for me, I didn’t even know what time it was I was just out for a leisurely walk.

Whether you are a Type A personality and are time-driven, or a Type B personality and are relaxed about time, all the days of any personality type are twenty-four hours.

For a lot of reasons from personality types to our philosophies on life, we have different outlooks on time in all the different situations that we have here as we walk this earth.

In all the ways to be timekeepers, no one knows the specific details of all that will happen in our time. We hope for a long life, but we really don’t know how long it will be. Scripture says seventy or maybe eighty years if it’s meant to be.

Coming from a large family and as a pastor, I’ve seen many funerals. I had a great-uncle who just missed his 110th birthday, and I’ve seen people die whom I thought died way too young.

It’s December, and even if you are not a detailed type of person, you make a list in your head because there’s so much to be done. We keep checking our lists, but we all have to admit that we are living in uncertain times.

If we do know anything, we know that this Christmas will be different than other years.

So, as much as we know that these days have many unknowns, do you mind if I make the argument that in the “big” picture of heaven and earth that we can live with much certainty?

In the “big” picture of heaven and earth, there are no cliffhangers because we know the whole story.

We, who are living in this present time that is over two thousand years after the last words of Scripture were written, know the complete story of salvation and how all will end on the Last Day when Jesus comes again.

When St. Mark was writing his Gospel and then sent it out for the world to read, Jesus’ mission on earth was completed. Jesus had been born, and he had lived, died, risen, and ascended to heaven where he sits now at the right hand of God the Father.

Imagine that you are a first-century Gentile who was reading the history of Jesus. Really, the Gospel of St. Mark, for those early Gentiles, read more like a breaking news story.

For them, as they read St. Mark’s Gospel, it read like a cliffhanger with many questions. Who was this Jesus? Is he the one that prophets of old told about? Will Jesus fall into Satan’s traps of temptation? Can this be the Son of God who is doing this healing? Why did he die on the cross? Will he really rise? Is this Jesus our true Lord and Savior?

Mark begins to tell the Gospel story, and people, as they read until its conclusion, came to believe in the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.

We are like those Gentiles of over two thousand years ago, who were among the first to come to believe, and we are not like them.

In a way, we are like the first-century Christians, for we have read the story of our salvation that Jesus had come to bring to us. We have a lot of questions.

But, God keeps coming in His Word to teach us.

We’ve been taught in Sunday School and confirmation classes, and we’ve heard the salvation story from beginning to end in worship by the readings over and over again through the years.

At our baptism that for most of us happened as infants, we came to faith, and we’ve grown in our knowledge of what our faith is-just like all believers throughout the history of the church.

But, in a way, we are different than those early believers because we’ve had so many witnesses of the faith who have gone before us, and there have been so many signs throughout world history.

And for ourselves, we have seen many signs that show what the prophets of old and Jesus himself had said that all are proving to be true.

We are living in a sign of the coming of the Last Day right now with this pandemic.

We are fully End Times people, for we know the whole story of salvation, and we know that Jesus is coming soon.

All the prophecies of the prophets and of Jesus have been fulfilled, except for Jesus’ second coming.

We know on the day when Jesus comes again that it will be a glorious day when Christ takes us to be in heaven forever.

In the church, we talk about our present life in Christ and how we have it now, but we are not quite all the way there, yet.

That little word “yet” has a lot of meaning. As long as we live on this earth, there is a tension between our present and what is coming.

We are always praying for our present time here on earth to be as it is in heaven.

The hard truth is that because of sin, the world and our lives will not be perfect, but we keep praying to get as much of the perfections of heaven as we can to be here on earth.

Then, on the Last Day, all will be perfect with a new heaven and new earth for eternity.

I know that I’m spoiling most of the tension by saying that we have no cliffhanger here.

But, I am with Paul Harvey here. We know and can trust the rest of the story.

It’s true that one piece of the story is missing. Only God the Father knows the date of the Last Day.

But, not knowing when the Last Day is should not create any anxiety for us.

We may not be able to control all that happens in our lives, but we can be very intentional about what we do with our time.

In our waiting, we can go about our days in calm confidence because we are living in Christ.

A life in Christ means that we have all the love and care that we need to go about our days. And the best way that we can go about our days is by giving that same love and care in Christ that we have received to others.

If we love in that way, a lot of the perfections of heaven can be here now.

How’s your memory? Has is it come to you who shot J.R.?

The article from Wikipedia later goes on to say how even Queen Elizabeth was intrigued by the mystery. Our former president, Gerald Ford, tried to get the producers of Dallas to get them to tell him who it was.

I’m not sorry that I have been the spoiler and have told you that there is no cliffhanger here.

With no doubt, God the Father loves us in Christ all the way to the end.

And the end, well, we’re not too sure exactly when that will be, but it’s coming soon-real soon.

You might be able to convince me that drama is building in the world, but by faith, we know enough of the story of our salvation that we can say that there is no cliffhanger here.

We know Jesus has come and will come again, so we can live now in joyful anticipation of that day when Jesus comes to create a new heaven and a new earth.

And in this joy, we can love one another in every situation of every moment of the time that God has given us.

No cliffhanger is here for us who remain faithful. We know, most certainly, in the end, all will work out gloriously.

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